Compiled by the Bedford Citizen
Bedford’s Annual Town Meeting began Monday, March 28 and continued on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. The Bedford Citizen reports the outcome of each warrant article at the end of each session, and cover highlights of the articles that stimulated debate.
Individual reports on Articles 12, 14, 18 and 19, section 17-32 follow:
Article 12 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment – Building Height
This zoning amendment will change both the height limit of new residential structures and the way the height is determined. An unintended consequence of the current height bylaw is that in established neighborhoods, in particular where teardowns are replaced by new and much larger structures, the look and feel of the existing neighborhood of smaller homes can be disrupted. New houses appear to “tower over” existing nearby homes and can even block light. The proposed bylaw change would set the height limit at 35 feet instead of 37 feet and define the height as the distance from the lowest foundation to the highest peak. The measurement baseline is the point where the two lowest foundation walls meet. The natural ground level cannot be changed by mounding dirt for a higher foundation.
The article was moved by Jeff Cohen, Chairman of the Planning Board, who described in some detail the changes in height measurement. He showed several illustrations of the impact; click to view the illustrations. The Planning Board, Selectmen and Finance Committees all recommended approval of the article.
There were several questions from the attendees. One asked, “How many existing homes this new definition of height limit would affect. Would homes that don’t meet this new standard become non-conforming?” Town officials noted that all existing homes would be grandfathered. This answer did not satisfy the questioner, who worried that a residence might be considered no longer in compliance and the homeowner would suffer a reduction in home value. One resident worried that an unintended consequence of this change may be more flat roofed residences. Another resident noted, “What is wrong with change? Finally, a supporter of the article noted that ugly homes will not be built, given the investment builders are making to create new residences for sale.
The motion passed by an affirmative 2/3 hand count of 155 yes and 42 no votes.
Article 14 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment – Limited business District
Article 14 allows the Zoning Board of Appeals to grant a special permit which would change the size limit of stores in the Limited Business District from the current 2,000 square feet to a level of up to 4,000 square feet for retail stores and “indoor amusement” establishments. The current restriction does not apply to restaurants or banks.
The article was moved by Todd Crowley, Chair, Zoning Board of Appeals, who said the intent of this bylaw change is to allow for more reasonably sized businesses and to attract desirable tenants. He pointed out the upper limit of 4,000 square feet is well below the size of much larger businesses such as Marshalls, Whole Foods, CVS, and other businesses in the areas outside of the limited business district. He also noted any increase beyond 2,000 square feet would only happen with the approval of the Planning Board after a Special Permit application review and public hearing, with any conditions deemed appropriate by the Planning Board..
The Selectmen, Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board, and Finance Committee all recommended approval of the by-law article.
Only one question was raised during debate on the article, a concern about how parking demands are handled and whether this change would negatively impact parking availability. Town officials responded that parking requirements are based on existing formulas in the bylaws.
The article passed by a 2/3 affirmative voice vote.
To read a previous article in the Bedford Citizen, go to https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2016/02/10/planning-board-supports-proposed-zoning-bylaw-amendment-for-limited-business-areas/
Article 18 – Bond Authorization, Job Lane School Addition
A full auditorium at the High School voted in unison on March 29 to approve bonding for expansion and modification of the Job Lane Elementary School. The extension will include six new classrooms, additional main office space and enlargement of the current parking lot. The increase in enrollment numbers along with the need to relocate the autism program called SAIL )(Socially Aware Independent Learners), presently at Davis School, will require one additional classroom and one occupational therapy space. The added classrooms will have an unforeseen impact on other areas of the school. With more students, Lane School will need to increase cafeteria space, stairway access, and bathroom provisions in order to comply with code when the increase in student numbers hits Lane in September 2017.
A Request for Proposal for a feasibility study of Lane School expansion was awarded by the School Committee to TBA Architects, based in Concord. It is from their designs and recommendations that the total funds requested at Town Meeting increased from $2,055,300 (a figure quoted in the warrant report) to $4,092,000. School Committee Chair Mike McAllister explained that this estimated figure was submitted before the results of the feasibility study had been reported and the subsequent monetary increase was mostly driven by essential code requirements.
One voter asked about the impact that the bond authorization would have on Bedford residents’ annual tax bills. The Finance Committee responded that households should see an increase of $6 per $100,000 in house value, making the average increase in property tax bills around $30 per year. The repayment rate for this building project loan was stated as $250,000 per year, which includes interest payments.
To read the feasibility study click https://www.bedford.k12.ma.us/images/stories/pdfs/super/lane%20school%20feasibility%20study%202-19-16%20final.pdf
Article 19 – Capital Projects: 17-32 Town and School Communications System
Authorization to bond $1,473,860 for a town-school wide fiber optic communication system stalled Tuesday night after an hour of discussion. The meeting adjourned to Monday, April 4 without taking a vote. Citizens’ concerns centered on whether a town-owned system was as cost effective as one from a provider such as Verizon or Comcast, and whether changes in technology would make the system obsolete in the projected 10-year life of the system. Selectman Bill Moonan explained that the system would replace current rented lines, many of which are on outdated copper wires. The new system would serve emergency services, security cameras, town and school phones and computer systems. If there were a break in the system, data could be rerouted without interruption of service. Currently the town has 300 lines at the cost of $22 per line, per month.
Many questions centered on costs and efficiency of maintenance for the new system. Facilities Director Taissir Alani said the Town already has on staff two electricians and existing relationships with vendors to whom he turns for support of town systems. He also pointed out that a fiber optic sytem is stable unless there is actual damage to the line, such as from digging.
Several town employees described the way the system would serve their departments. Fire Chief David Grunes spoke about communications among first responders in an emergency. Public Works Engineer Adrienne St. John described how sewer and water systems are monitored on telephone lines and that alerts can prevent drops in water pressure or sewer backups. School Superintendent Jon Sills talked about the centrality of online computers to education and the ever-increasing demands for connectivity at peak times.
Editor’s Note: The Bedford Citizen has learned that the Selectmen will make a new, more in-depth presentation when Town Meeting reconvenes Monday night, and that the consultant who designed the project will be available for questions.