Consultants Report They Found Zoning Bylaw Structure ‘Confusing’

The consultants engaged by the Bedford Planning Board to assess whether to reorganize the zoning bylaw told the board at a meeting last week that they found the current bylaw structure “confusing.”

Founder Judi Barrett and Robert Mitchell, Barrett Planning Group, Hingham, said the formatting causes particular problems. Barrett recommended using a uniform format rather than alternating among different formats for each topic. 

According to its website, the Barrett Planning Group provides a “creative approach to planning and problem-solving, expertise as trainers and technical assistance providers.”

At last week’s meeting, Barrett began by explaining the criteria that her company uses, including structure, clarity, conflicts and inconsistencies, and obsolete or missing provisions. 

Mitchell said that the Bedford bylaw’s organization by “classification of principal uses” is unusual when compared to the structure used in other towns. 

Barrett recommended utilizing a “table of uses” organized by district and color coding. She also stressed the importance of using standard formatting in order to ensure new residents or non-residents will be able to fully understand the bylaws.

Barrett explained that the long paragraphs, grammatical errors, and ambiguous language make the content more difficult to comprehend, particularly Section 4.2.25 Zoning for the Elderly, Section 6.2.5 Building Height, and Section 7.1 Nonconforming Uses. 

She recommended that specific terms be clearly defined, including “residential use,” “adaptive reuse,” “affordable housing,” and “health care.” 

She noted inconsistencies in the fact that under Section 4.5.11 Auto Services Stations are prohibited in all districts, but auto services stations are later included in the Great Road District under Section 22.6.1. She also recommended revising Section 9 Planned Residential Development to make the language clearer and more concise.

In answer to a question from Barrett, Catherine Perry, Assistant Planning Director, confirmed that the Aquifer Protection District is being used in districts that include biological laboratories and other select properties. Perry agreed that the Residential Development Rate Limitation is an obsolete provision and explained that it was put in place before any of the current members joined the Board. 

Mitchell recommended that more specific criteria be added to Section 7.1 Nonconforming Uses. Barrett reminded the Board that G.L.c40A, 6 and G.L.c40A, 3 will need to be updated in accordance with recent laws.

Barrett and Mitchell suggested adding more provisions for shared and off-street parking as well as organizing parking requirements into an easy-to-read table. They also offered several suggestions to revise Site Plan Approval, and the Section 14 Administration and Enforcement Overhaul. Mitchell offered to work with the Board to create a “Phase Two” list of more narrow and specific revisions as the process continues. 

Planning Board member Amy Lloyd praised Barrett’s and Mitchell’s efforts and agreed with their recommendations. She noted that color coding may cause issues for color blind individuals, but Barrett said this issue can be remedied by using colors that would have different shading or bold coloring. 

In answer to a question from member Todd Crowley, Planning Director Tony Fields said the sign bylaw would not be included in this process. 

Crowley also expressed concerns that using language that is overly specific could prove to be too restrictive and limit the role of the Zoning Board of Appeals, but Barrett assured him that the revisions would allow interpretation and flexibility. Crowley served on the zoning board before he was elected to the Planning Board last March. 

Member Jacinda Barbehenn asked that the new bylaw be formatted in a way that will be easy to understand regardless of whether residents read it online or via hard copy. Mitchell said that the document will be designed so that it will be “easily updated and easily printed.”

Barrett explained that the first step will be creating a “crosswalk” or general template and numbering system that will determine how the entire document is organized. She confirmed that the crosswalk will be completed and submitted to the Board for review before their first meeting in January.


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