The Select Board Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a proposed 20-unit rental residential development on land at 330 South Road — the southwest corner of South Road and Summer Street — as a so-called Local Initiative Project (LIP).
The vote included an option that the owner would make land available to facilitate safety improvements at the intersection, and that the four affordable units required be perpetual.
The motion means the plans will go directly to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a decision, once the site is approved by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
A LIP is sometimes known as a “friendly 40B,” referencing a 52-year-old state law that allows affordable housing developers to apply for a comprehensive permit while bypassing normal zoning considerations.
The intent of Chapter 40B is to increase the inventory of affordable housing. Cities and towns with more than 10 percent of its housing units categorized as affordable are exempt from the statute. Bedford is way over that threshold, but the Select Board can still use the law to foster affordable units. That’s why the LIP is considered “friendly.”
The proposal, called Village at Merriam Farm, consists of three reconfigured buildings totaling 18 units and a new structure with an additional two. The land is currently zoned for commercial use, and there have been several small businesses there over the years.
“We have been at this for almost three years,” Attorney Pamela Brown noted. The choice was made to preserve and repurpose existing buildings, and diversify housing type and price.
Brown, representing owners Steven and Jennifer Soillis, told the board that the original proposal was scaled back after a virtual public information meeting in early August. She explained that a six-unit new building will now be reduced to a two-unit townhouse complex, so the total number of units was reduced from 24 to 20.
“I thought it was a really beneficial meeting. We were able to hear the neighborhood concerns and questions and ultimately present an alternate plan,” Brown said. “It seemed more desirable to the neighborhood.”
Brown also pointed out that a second access is proposed through an easement adjacent to a house at 9-11 Summer Street. The shared access would help integrate the development with the neighborhood, Brown said.
Plans call for demolition of two garages and “a shed-like building,” Brown reported, so the final building coverage will be close to net neutral.
Brown said a traffic study shows that current commercial use generates more traffic than the projected volume from the proposed residences. However, she acknowledged that there is an existing problem at the intersection, and a roundabout may be a way to remediate it.
The owner could provide easements for a roundabout, she said, and that was subsequently incorporated into the motion for approval.
“We heard from abutters about the size of the new building, and about buffers, but the big issue was traffic safety at the intersection,” Brown said. “We all want to see that intersection be safe.”
The apartments range from one to three bedrooms; there are no studios. The total number of bedrooms is 46; Brown pointed out that the ratio of planned bedrooms per acre of land (24) is actually less than that of the surrounding streets in the Bedford Gardens area (30). The size of the site is 1.82 acres, part of which is contiguous to yards on Eliot Road.
The proposal has been endorsed by the Bedford Housing Partnership. Brown noted that the reduced number of units allows the owner to employ a different formula, making the affordable apartments more available to people with lower incomes.
In answer to a question from board member Bopha Malone, Brown said she hopes the DHCD clears the proposal in a couple of months.
Select Board member Emily Mitchell pointed out that only one of the units is being built as accessible. Architect Barry Ganek replied that all units are designed as “adaptable,” according to the state architectural barriers codes. That includes provisions for installing grab bars and placement of cabinets.
Asked by Mitchell about sustainability intentions, Soillis said “the plan is to get solar panels on the roofs as long as they are economically feasible.” He said he believes “that it’s a worthwhile thing to do.” However, Brown said she wasn’t sure the budget could handle electric vehicle charging stations suggested by Board Chair Margot Fleischman.
Members of the Select Board were complimentary about the developers’ response to concerns. Chair Fleischman commended the development team for its outreach efforts. Board member Ed Pierce said, “I think it’s a great thing that we are able to preserve some historic buildings and turn it into diverse housing for the town.”
Board member Mitchell noted that “we have seen improvements and responsiveness to public concerns and abutter concerns,” adding that the Zoning Board of Appeals process presents other opportunities for adjustments. Member William Moonan also indicated satisfaction with the plan.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763