Town Meeting Approves Detached Accessory Dwelling Units, Assisted Living Zoning Overlay

Annual town meeting Saturday approved by a wide margin a zoning amendment that under certain conditions allows detached accessory dwelling units on a residential lot.

Article 23 passed by a 179-36 vote, more than 83 percent in favor. A similar article at town meeting in 2019 was short of the two-thirds mark by a few votes. Since then not only was the content modified, but also a state law designed to facilitate new housing apparently reduced the requirement for approval to a simple majority.

Several other zoning amendments also were easily approved at Saturday’s town meeting with little discussion.

Supporting the detached dwelling units on behalf of the Council on Aging Board, Sandra Hackman, chair, said the amendment “will give older residents the opportunity to live in a supportive environment with independence and dignity.”

By 2030, one-third of Bedford residents will be at least age 60, according to a recent housing study, Hackman said, and almost one-third of current seniors are “cost-burdened.” She acknowledged that accessory units won’t answer all the needs of the elderly, but it’s part of the solution.

But that wasn’t enough for Richard Daugherty, who has been advocating for housing options for older residents for years.

There is no indication that there will be enough accessory dwellings to make a meaningful difference, Daugherty said. He cited a 2006 survey that called for 400 new dwelling units, rented or owned, for older residents over the next 10 years. The bylaw amendment, he said, “doesn’t affect that issue.”

Planning Board member Amy Lloyd pointed out that her board never claimed that the amendment would solve the housing shortage for older residents. Daugherty implored, “I need to sell my house and buy one of these places. When are we going to address the issue?” He added, “My wife and I are leaving town this year” for that reason.

Other speakers supported the proposal, not as a panacea for one age group but for a broader market. Erin Sandler recognized the need for older residents, but stressed the need for “more affordable housing across the board.”

Christina Wilgren of the town Housing Partnership pointed out that “this is not meant to solve all the senior issues but is one step,” adding, “There are myriad folks living in town who are cost-burdened.” And John Mitchell, noting that the median Bedford housing price of $800,000 is beyond the reach of most town employees, said, “We need this to make it more affordable for young people starting out, and for people who may not make as much to afford to live in the community where they work.”

Robert Kalantari said he supports the current version of accessory units, which requires that they be attached. He said the Zoning Board of Appeals – of which he is a member – is excluded from the approval process in the amendment, which could mean that the new structures are not consistent with neighborhood character. He also said the proposal is inconsistent with the raison d’etre of zoning.

Lloyd responded that a Planning Board site-plan review was added in response to concerns expressed at the original debate over detached units. She also noted that the Board of Appeals is still involved with dwellings proposed for a non-conforming lot – half of the lots in town.

Article 24, an amendment providing incentives for accessory dwelling developers who use universal design and enhanced energy efficiency, was also approved. This amendment was separated earlier from article 23 because it requires a vote of at least two-thirds for approval.

Articles 25 and 26 create an overlay zoning district for assisted living facilities on parts of South Road and Summer Street. Driven by a proposed development by LCB Assisted Living on South Road near Evergreen Avenue, both the Council on Aging and Bedford Housing Partnership endorsed the plan as a way for seniors to age in place.

While there was a suggestion that developers would saturate the area with assisted living facilities, Planning Board Chair Shawn Hanegan pointed out that the Planning Board would still need to grant developers authorization to develop other assisted living facilities. The amendment was passed by more than a two-thirds majority, as did Article 27, concerning changes to the site-plan review process.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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