The Planning Board continues to work toward facilitating a proposed assisted living complex with an amendment to the town zoning bylaw.
At its meeting on Dec. 15, the board met with representatives of LCB Senior Living to discuss the proposed zoning. LCB wants to construct a 92-unit development on South Road at the corner of Evergreen Avenue.
The current zoning bylaw lacks definitions for these facilities, as well as criteria on dimensions. Board Member Amy Lloyd referred to the current bylaw as “archaic,” while Attorney Pamela Brown, representing LCB, noted that changes to the law to include facilities like the one proposed have been considered before but never came to fruition.
The Planning Board members agreed that devising an overlay district would be their preferred method of adding assisted living to the zoning bylaw. Members also emphasized the importance of separating definitions of uses like assisted and independent living in the bylaw.
The proposed overlay district is expected to be reviewed by the board at its meeting on Jan. 12, and ultimately will be included on the May 2021 annual town meeting warrant.
The importance of getting the LCB project underway quickly was also a key point of discussion. As Lloyd put it, “we need to address the coming tsunami of seniors — I’ll be one of them.” Planning Board member Steven Hagan recommended that any changes to the zoning bylaw should be done in parallel with publicizing the LCB construction proposal to allow the matters to progress.
Planning Director Tony Fields noted that some other forms of senior living such as nursing homes in Bedford have fewer criteria, instead being allowed through special permits in the Residential districts. He offered the possibility of making assisted living follow similar guidelines, with possible modifications made later.
Brown put forth the idea of allowing assisted living as a use within a specific geographic area while also being bound to specific zoning types, Industrial A and Residential C. The proposal by LCB would be bound by the Minuteman Bikeway, Loomis, and Summer Streets.
But Planning Board Member Shawn Hanegan voiced a concern that mixing a geographic zone with a zoning requirement lacks precedent and brings unwanted confusion to the bylaw.
Assistant Planner Catherine Perry restated a previous concern that many industrial sites in Bedford are not hospitable to assisted living facilities. Brown noted that the criteria outlined in the bylaw draft would address those issues.
Hanegan floated the idea of rezoning the proposed site from Industrial to Residence C to simplify the process, but Lee Bloom of LCB said that changing the zoning of the site is not something to which LCB nor the current owner can agree.
Board Member Cindy Barbehenn raised the possibility of looking into other forms of housing to accommodate seniors. She brought up bringing more multi-generational housing to Bedford. Lloyd then put forth a plan to focus first on assisted living, then fully rewrite the definitions around various types of senior living to align with state definitions once the LCB project is underway.
Jeff Cohen voiced his agreement for this plan. saying that once a zoning consultant is brought in, these questions of “archaic language” can be addressed. The consultant is expected to be engaged to assist with an overhaul of the entire zoning bylaw.