Letter to the Editor: Warrant Articles 25 and 26 ~ Assisted Living Overlay District

Submitted by Jeffrey Cohen

As a longtime Bedford resident and public servant, I have seen our town grow in so many ways. With the passing of 28 years between my first day on the Zoning Board of Appeals to my recent retirement as Chair of the Planning Board, I know firsthand how important it is for our town to plan for the changes that will influence our future. One of the most critical of these demographic trends facing Bedford is the rising share of senior citizens expected to reside here over the coming decade. That is why I am supporting Articles 25 and 26 at the upcoming May 15 Annual Town Meeting- they are the first in a series of steps we must take to expand senior housing options in our community. Without actions like these, too many Bedford seniors will be forced to move out of the community they’ve called home for decades.

We must be realistic about the likelihood that citizens aged 60+ will represent a larger and larger share of Bedford in the coming years. In fact, this issue was analyzed specifically in a 2018 study conducted by the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at UMass Boston. Researchers found that the proportion of Bedford’s population aged 60 or older was expected to grow from 21% to 30-34% by 2030. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of seniors surveyed for the study reported having lived in Bedford for more than 25 years, and 53% considered it “very important” to remain in Bedford as they got older.

This demographic report informed the 2019 Bedford Housing Study, sponsored by the Select Board. The Bedford Housing Study found that “growth in the senior age group far outpaces growth in all of the other age groups in Bedford, most of which are also growing,” and that without housing specifically designed to accommodate seniors and their needs, many of those who have spent their lives in this community would be forced to move away in the twilight of their years.

This reality is why Articles 25 and 26, which would establish an Assisted Living Overlay District in Bedford, are so important. Currently, the Town has limited zoning allowing the construction of assisted living facilities, which are an important bridge between fully independent senior living and comprehensive nursing homes. Assisted living is targeted at those who benefit from a little help in day-to-day life but do not require 24/7 medical care, and includes amenities like meal preparation, transportation, and a full calendar of social, educational, recreational, and cultural activities. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge of keeping our seniors here in Bedford, but it has an important role to play.

The creation of this district, which was designed and recommended by the Planning Board, was spurred by the proposal of a reputable elder care company, LCB Senior Living, to build an assisted living residence at 240-244 South Road. This site, currently occupied by Iovino Excavating, falls within the overlay district and would likely be the first to take advantage of it if approved at Town Meeting. It is important to note that the Planning Board designed the overlay district to cover only a limited area of town. Further, LCB’s project, like any other proposed assisted living residence, would be subject to rigorous scrutiny and public input as part of the site review process.

Helping as many seniors as possible to remain in Bedford is an important task for our community in the coming years. Expanded assisted living options, while not a cure-all, are but one tool in the toolbox that will require continued creativity and political will to be solved. I am proud of the work I and my fellow members of the Planning Board and Planning Department staff did in crafting an overlay district to make assisted living a viable option here in Bedford, and I encourage you to join me in voting for it by supporting Articles 25 and 26 at Town Meeting this May 15.

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