Annual Town Meeting 2016: Day One Recap – Monday, March 29

Compiled by the Bedford Citizen

Old Town SealBedford’s Annual Town Meeting began Monday, March 28 and decided Articles 1-11. The meeting continues with Article 12 on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. 

The Citizen will report the outcome of each warrant article at the end of each meeting, and will offer highlights of the articles that stimulated debate.

Articles 7 and 8 were voted on Monday night:

Article 7 – General Bylaw Amendment – Wetlands Protection

The Wetlands Protection Bylaw was put forward by the Conservation Commission and presented by Chair Steven Hagan and member, John Wilson. The revision would repeal the current bylaw in its entirety and replace it with the new bylaw.

The article PASSED with very limited opposition.

Since the existing bylaw was last amended in 1995, the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions issued a “model” Wetlands Protection Bylaw/Ordinance which many cities and towns, including all of the towns adjacent to Bedford, have since used to update local wetlands protection bylaws, making the structure and language more clear, readable and user-friendly for both citizens and local officials. This should also lead to better enforcement and compliance. The proposed bylaw was not designed to strengthen or weaken existing provisions.

Jacqueline Edwards of the Arbor Resources Committee expressed ongoing concerns about the protection of trees, asking specifically why no photograph was required before a resident removed a tree. She referred to a provision that allows for the removal of a protected tree if it is seen to pose a safety hazard. The property owner may obtain certification of the risk from a registered arborist and remove the tree without going before the Commission for a hearing.  A report along with a photograph of the tree would be filed with the Commission

Hagen said that often safety is an issue and a tree needs to come down quickly. He then went on to say that this bylaw change was designed to simplify and clarify the town’s Wetland Protection Bylaw, and that the Conservation Commission could “tweak” the language in the future saying, “State law rules first. Bedford laws can be more strict, but not less.”

There were several questions about the definition of “wetlands.” It was pointed out that the town has maps of the Bedford wetlands, and that the town ConservationAdministrator would be willing to meet with or visit any resident to assess specific property concerns.

For more details, read some of the articles published in The Citizen since this issue first arose:

Article 8 Bylaw Amendment – Conversion of Public School Buildings to  … Residential Use / A petitioners’ article submitted by the Page Place Trust)

Feelings ran high when Article 8, the zoning bylaw amendment concerning conversion of public school buildings to multiple residential use (generally known as the “Page Place” article) came up for consideration at Town Meeting last night. The proposed amendment would allow for additional condominium units to be built at Page Place. During the one -hour discussion, more than 20 voters rose to speak for or against the zoning bylaw change.

The article FAILED by a vote of 141 nays to 131 yeas.

It’s important to note that another article on the same topic was withdrawn from consideration at the 2015 Special Town Meeting after the Planning Board voted disapproval.  Having lost at the 2016 ATM, the article may not be reintroduced within two years.

The Selectmen were unanimous in approving the article, stating it would add needed housing units to the town; the Planning Board approved by a 4:1 vote, with one member dissenting because there was no provision for an affordable unit, and the Finance Committee disapproved the article on the grounds that it set a bad precedent and might have a negative effect on Bedford’s already overcrowded schools.

Moderator Cathy Cordes stressed that Article 8 centered on a bylaw change and was not a discussion of the Page Place project itself.

Attorney Pamela Brown, who presented the article as representative of the Page Place Trust, echoed the same point. But voters who spoke on the article appeared to be mainly concerned about details of the project: density (number of units per acre), effect of increased units on traffic, impact on abutters, possible effect on school population, lack of access to trails and open lands, accessibility, and effect on wildlife. Several speakers were concerned that changing the bylaw would set a bad precedent and might lead to future school takings, if the school population were again to decline (which was the reason for the 1985 conversion of the former Page School to Page Place Condominiums.)

Several current residents of Page Place urged voter approval, citing need for larger, 3-bedroom units and the ways in which garages would make life easier for the many elderly condo owners. Two residents said they already have children in the Bedford schools and would be eager to move into a larger unit, thus freeing up smaller units for seniors or others interested in downsizing. Their point was that the children are already in the schools. Brown estimated the proposed additional units might “generate” two additional school-age children.

Multiple speakers commented that, although the discussion was not intended to focus on the details of the Page Place project, the tenor of the discussion clearly showed that Bedford is strongly interested in the issue of providing housing across a wide socio-economic spectrum: young families, seniors, and residents needing accessible housing.

For more details, read some of the articles published in The Citizen since this issue first arose:

Town Meeting continues tonight.

Tune in again for a recap of Tuesday night’s action.

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