OK, what is the most iconic tree in Bedford?
There are a lot of candidates, but the consensus among three generations – maybe four – has to be the majestic beech alongside 18 North Road, just east of Holi and Bedford Farms.
Nile Ziemba thinks the beech tree is around 120 years old. “We want to engender respect for the tree,” he asserted.
Respect and affection. Ziemba, owner of the property, has opened the space surrounding the beech as a public micro park. The landscaping is part of an exterior renovation Ziemba recently completed to the adjacent building.
The house at 18 North Road is not one of Bedford’s historic properties – it was built only about 130 years ago. But it is a cornerstone of the Wilson Park perimeter.
The building houses seven commercial suites and a residential unit. There are actually two lots – the building and the adjacent yard. Ziemba said he knew there was no way the town would permit development of that area, particularly because of the venerable beech tree.
So he decided to showcase the tree and designate the building as the Beech House.
Ziemba and his 20-year-old firm, North River Builders, were tenants at 18 North Road when he purchased the property in the fall of 2018. The prior owner wanted to demolish the structure, but was rebuffed by town agencies, he noted, and “I was waiting in the wings.”
North River does renovation, so it was a natural. After spending several weeks to line up regulatory approvals, including the Historic District Commission, Ziemba launched the project, which mostly involves the exterior. “We stripped literally hundreds of layers of paint right down to the wood,” he said, with an environmentally-friendly infrared technique. He replaced all of the windows and executed many other smaller repairs.
Eventually, Ziemba would like to replace the rear annex with a barn, which would be especially authentic because of the dairy farm once at the site.
The one area of disagreement involves the sign bylaw. Ziemba has petitioned for a waiver from the height limit on a free-standing sign in front of the building. That has been denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The landscaping, designed by Laurie Ellsworth, includes peastone-covered paths, iron and granite benches, plantings and even a small bike rack in the southeast corner.
But it’s really all about the beech tree, which used to be covered with climbing kids but in recent years has been fenced to protect it. Soon it will be surrounded by a “sea of ferns,” Ziemba said. They’re starting to sprout now, he said; next summer there will be “a dense carpet.”
Ziemba said specialists from Bartlett Tree Service show up every couple of months and inject nutrients into the soil, as the owner is proactive about sustaining the landmark beech. He also wants to place the tree’s life span in perspective, so he is preparing signage that will note major national and world events at the time the beech was planted.
“We really wanted to make it accessible to the community,” said Ziemba. “We feel like we are the stewards to one of the gateways to Bedford.” The wrought iron fence “subtly reminds people that it is part of our property,” Ziemba said. But “people should treat it as a public park.”
Ziemba said the relations with neighbors are “cooperative.” Every day, he related, members of the crew at Bedford Farms empty the wrought-iron trash receptacles along the border.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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