Special Town Meeting Addresses Controversial Zoning Issues 

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At the November 4 Special Town Meeting, voters disapproved an amendment to the current zoning regulations for accessory dwelling units while approving amendments to the permitted height of accessory structures; specifications of base elevations of single-family dwellings; and restrictions on temporary use structures. They also voted to permit the construction of horizontal mixed-use in the Great Road/North Road District, and clarified the prohibition of drive-throughs in the Great Road District.

Article 10—Zoning Bylaw Amendment Accessory Dwelling Units

Since 1992, Bedford has allowed internal and attached Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). These units are often called “in-law apartments,” but essentially provide a separate, smaller living unit within the same structure. Article 10 would expand accessory dwelling units to allow detached ADUs as well as adding other regulations.

Zoning Board of Appeals member Robert Kalantari, who was one of the original petitioners for the current by-law that he still supports, stated his opposition to Article 10 as he does not believe that the by-law was intended to include a detached unit.

Other attendees asked whether or not the construction of an ADU would require an additional process and permitting. The Planning Board clarified that an ADU would not require additional proceedings if the lot and ADU meet requirements set forth in the bylaw.

Other speakers were concerned over the increased density of housing in Bedford if the construction of ADUs were not monitored.

Craig Jackson asked why the Planning Board felt it necessary to bring the article to a Special Town Meeting. This sentiment was echoed by other speakers following Jackson. While not imminent, the Planning Board explained that the article was intended to help solve a future problem.

As the debate over Article 10 continued, an amendment was proposed to the article that would have limited the maximum occupancy of an ADU. Town Moderator Cathy Cordes determined that she could not accept the amendment due to its lack of specifics.

Jim O’Neil, who spoke of his activism against the article, citing his concerns over the increased density that ADUs would cause throughout the town. O’Neil also claimed that ADUs would not benefit senior citizens due to the extended period that ADUs would take to return any profit. In addition, O’Neil raised a concern over the possibility of Airbnb rentals in ADUs. O’Neil recommended disapproval of the article, but would like to see the article return during Annual Town Meeting, but without the provision for detached units.
 
Peter Ricci further questioned the Planning Board over the reasoning behind bringing up Article 10 at Special Town Meeting instead of Annual Town Meeting. The Planning Board justified submitting the article at STM due to the much more crowded agenda at Annual Town Meeting. The Board also stressed that they work year-round.

Zoning Board of Appeals member Carol Amick voiced her support for the amendment, but spoke of a proposed amendment that would prohibit a detached ADU unless supported by the Zoning Board of Appeals through a Special Permit. Amick added that the Article would be brought up during Annual Town Meeting to include this amendment.
 
Michelle Puntillo raised concern over the lack of possible architectural requirements for ADUs. Specifically, she cited the minimum requirements for doors to be 32 inches, while wheelchairs require 36 inches. Due to the lack of restrictions, Puntillo voiced her opposition to the article.
 
Other individuals spoke against the amendment on grounds that the Planning Board should allow neighbors and abutters to have a say in possible construction.

Peter Ricci clarified his previous statement as not opposition to content, but rather the urgency to pass the bylaw now. Ricci moved to table the measure indefinitely and was met with multiple seconds, but his amendment failed.

In the end, Article 10 failed on a vote of 130 to 80, which did not meet the required 2/3 majority.

Article 11—Zoning Bylaw Amendment Height Of Accessory Structures

There were no public comments relating to Article 11, which passed overwhelmingly.

Article 12—Zoning Bylaw Amendment Base Elevation

There were no public comments relating to Article 12 which passed unanimously.


Article 13—Zoning Bylaw Amendment Temporary Uses And Structures

The Finance Committee recommended disapproval of the article, which ultimately passed with 2/3 support.

Article 14—Zoning Bylaw Amendment Horizontal Mixed-Use In The Great Road/North Road District

Article 14 amends the current regulations within the Great Road/North Road district to allow the Planning Board to approve the construction of horizontal mixed-used buildings.

The Finance Committee did not support the measure over their concern that the possible deeper development would continue to increase traffic.

Peter Ricci questioned the Planning Board over the possible use of a formula to determine the business to housing ratio at a mixed-used horizontal lot. The Planning Board reiterated that there is no formula used. Ricci asked about the possible increase in traffic around a new development and was told that similar to any other construction, the town would conduct a traffic study.

The Planning Board reiterated that similar to vertical mixed-use property, horizontal mixed-used would allow redevelopment of land to better meet the town’s future needs.

Article 14 passed with a 2/3 majority.

Article 15—Zoning Bylaw Amendment Clarifying Prohibition Of Drive-Throughs In The Great Road Districts 

Concern was raised over the outright ban of drive-throughs along the Great Road District. Proponents of this measure supported a process for interested businesses to receive a permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Bedford’s 10 current drive-throughs would not be affected by this change.  In the end the restriction was widely supported by those in favor of a more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly Great Road.