Historic Preservation Commission Weighs in on Navy Hangar Acquisition

By Ben Oleksinski

A potential acquisition of the Navy hangar property on the south side of Hartwell Road is going through evaluation by various committees as it heads toward Special Town Meeting. The most recent filter was the Historical Preservation Committee at their July 10th meeting

The purchase was brought to the Committee simply because it met some relevant criteria. Built in the mid-fifties, the naval property is considered eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. But, the property is not under any firm preservation requirements.

The northern portion of the property is of no historical significance. This was the bottom line in a Navy letter to the Selectmen, a finding concurred with by the Historical Preservation Committee. Yet, this area is hazardous. Components from circuit board manufacturing near Hanscom Air Force Base have seeped far enough into the ground to make extraction lengthy and costly. The field was at one point a National Superfund Site itself. So, while it may not have historic value, there remains enough contamination to be an issue for in the future.

For the southern portion, however, a case for historical significance can be made. Although the abandoned buildings are in poor condition, they were part of the Navy industrial reserve well over fifty years old. The Historical Preservation Committee discussed this at length. Designating the hangar “historical” would lower the value of the land. With the acquisition comes questions of proper zoning, and giving historical protections to the hangar and larger property would complicate such decisions. The consensus was the Town would have a conversation with the Navy so to settle the matter. The southern portion is uncontaminated and there is no listed Activity and Use Limitation for the property.

Other points of the letter offered historic mitigation and asked for the Committee to prepare a historic description should it be needed. Both would have a slowing effect on redevelopment.

One sentiment raised by the Committee was the acquisition’s purpose and place in Bedford it is, effectively, a preemptive and preventive decision.  If approved (with or without historical covenant), the property could be rezoned for the most feasible use. This strategy covers all the bases, preventing development that could undermine the quality of life in Bedford.

The major takeaway from the Historical Preservation Committee meeting was that they concurred with the Selectmen that it has no inherent historical significance, making a weighty decision somewhat lighter.

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