Pine Hill Crossing ~ Seven Years Later, Neighborhood Pride

 

“The vision was to make a neighborhood – which we have done.”

Francis DeCoste was surveying the new residential cluster called Pine Hill Crossing, a former military housing compound on Pine Hill Road across from the intersection with Hancock Street.

DeCoste is chief operating officer of TR Advisors, which after more than five years since winning the development contract can now see completion on the horizon.

DeCoste said 26 of the 29 units on the five acres have been sold. They are all occupied except for the one being used as a sales office. Construction is getting underway on the last pair of cottages on Mikkelsen Lane. A nearby ranch house will be on the market when it’s unimpeded by construction.

The place feels like a community, and a lot of that is reflected by the front porches. A few featured creative Halloween decor. Bikes – some kids’ size, others adult – lean against occasional steps. There’s some central common space, with green space, paving stones, Adirondack chairs, and an attractive view sloping down to the street. DeCoste pointed out exterior construction choices that give the complex a unified feel.

It’s quite a change from the scene almost a decade ago, when the 16 ranch houses on Pine Hill Road, Lewis Road, and Mikkelsen Lane were empty and forlorn. The Coast Guard personnel who most recently resided there found more attractive options in new housing over at Hanscom Air Force Base. In the 1960s the compound was home to Army officers overseeing the Nike missile site in Bedford, or commuting to Fort Devens.

Now it has been resurrected. Pine Hill Crossing is the realization of a vision that emerged in 2014, when the General Services Administration agreed to work with the town in the disposition of the property rather than just open it up to general bidding.

During that year, scenarios for development emerged from a series of public meetings – a participatory planning process known as a charette. The result is not a replica of all of those ideas, but it has accomplished several priorities, including diversifying the local housing inventory and providing additional units deemed affordable.

The town awarded the contract to TR Associates in 2016, and work began in April 2017. The developer’s plan was to rent many of the existing units immediately, seeding the financing of the new houses. Twelve ranches were ready to go by Thanksgiving; then the developer organized the condominium association, which owns the open space and walkways.

New construction began in February 2019. The pandemic contributed to time elapsed, but work continued with safety precautions, “We did everything we were supposed to do,” said DeCoste. “It was a challenge.”

There were some issues involving utilities. The two remaining houses under construction will be ranches because the wires are too low for a second story. A few homes are on electric heat; DeCoste couldn’t arrange for an affordable gas line extension. DeCoste said everything was repaved. The original small playground remains; the developer said residents can decide whether to enhance it.

The original cluster was 16 ranch houses. The accepted plan called for retaining 12, of which seven were renovated, said DeCoste. He said the first ranch that went on sale was purchased for $450,000; the most recent price was about $100,000 more. The cottages have been selling in the 600s, much more than first envisioned. But then, the market has changed since then.

Who moved into Pine Hill Crossing?

Among the new residents, DeCoste said, are folks from the inner suburbs. About seven of the units have children of varying ages; he said kids like to explore the trails in the adjacent York Conservation area

DeCoste said that Pine Hill Crossing did not turn out to be a haven for local residents who wanted to downsize. He speculated that one reason might be that the units do not have basements or garages, “a big problem for the downsizing people.” One new resident used a “downsizing consultant” to figure everything out, he added.

One house was designed for and occupied by a disabled person. There are four units that have been added to the town’s affordable housing inventory.

“My goal was to let everyone make their own space,” he said. “We have a lot of happy people here.”

One of the new homeowners is Chris Colby, a civilian employee at Hanscom Air Force Base, who moved into the Crossing with his partner last November after a year renting at Avalon, off Concord Road. “I wanted to get a feel for the community before I purchased a home. During the first pandemic summer, we knew we wanted to stay local because we just love Bedford.”

“We absolutely love it,” Colby said of his new place. “Obviously it is a very quiet neighborhood. I telework and my office is on the second floor looking out the front window –right now I can see the walking trail. A day doesn’t go by that we’re not walking on that trail to Fawn Lake and beyond. Our neighbors are absolutely wonderful.” He said he and his spouse “have no complaints about the community here.”

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

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