Town Meeting, What to Expect Tonight ~ The Fire Station, and More Two-Thirds Votes

March 29, 2022

So you think Act One was memorable? Wait until you see Act Two.

Bedford’s annual town meeting resumes tonight—Tuesday. March 29—at 7 pm in Bedford High School’s Buckley Auditorium. And the focus will be on a proposal to purchase the property at 139 The Great Road as the location for a new fire station.

It will be hard to match the drama—and the longevity—of Monday night’s four-and-a-quarter hour opening session, dominated by discussion and ultimate defeat of plans to extend the paved Minuteman Bikeway.

And it is all but certain that for the first time in many years, Town Meeting will continue into a second week. That likely date would be Monday, April 4.

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Tonight’s debate is not about whether the town needs a new fire station. That’s the baseline. The issues are the historic nature of the building now at 139 The Great Road and whether it’s appropriate to site a new fire station in Bedford’s Historic District. (Editor’s note: The current station adjacent to the Common is already in the historic district.

There are some underlying considerations:

  1. Article 8 proposes the purchase of the property, but only to be used as the site for a fire station.
  2. The cost will be covered by bonding, which requires at least two-thirds approval by voters.
  3. Article 9, which calls for $2 million to design the new facility, also will need at least two-thirds. If Article 8 is approved and Article 9 fails, the Select Board will have the option of a reprise at the fall special town meeting, although in the interim the property could be sold to someone else. If Article 8 fails, Article 9 likely will be indefinitely postponed.
  4. Hovering over the entire discussion is the knowledge that the Historic District Commission has the ultimate authority over exteriors in the district, and can turn down an application for a demolition permit. But that can’t be considered by law until the commission simultaneously can look at the fire station design.

Two years ago town meeting was poised to vote on a proposal to acquire property at 175 The Great Road for more than $7 million as the site for a fire station. The pandemic settled on the Town two weeks before Annual Town Meeting  2020, and the proposal was not included in the streamlined town meeting warrant when it was held in the summer of 2020.

As the Select Board began its consideration of resurrecting the issue, they learned of the availability of 139 The Great Road. The current owner, Utah State University, plans to sell the property this spring regardless of town meeting action.

The board emerged from negotiations with a purchase price of $1.55 million.

Article 8 will not open tonight’s lineup—there are a few remaining components of the capital article on the floor, as Monday’s session was adjourned abruptly. Watch Monday’s proceedings on the Bedford TV YouTube channel.

Following Articles 8 and 9, the remainder of the warrant is almost entirely financial, except for an annual plan to pay for steps to reduce groundwater in the sanitary sewer system and a proposal to acquire a house and lot adjacent to the site of an expanded Shawsheen Cemetery.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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Virginia
March 29, 2022 5:05 pm

Mike Rosenberg, I don’t know you, but have I ever told you you are great? This article is very helpful going into tonight. Thank you!

Last edited 2 years ago by Virginia
Margaret Donovan
March 29, 2022 1:21 pm

I’m sure there is not a resident of Bedford who doesn’t want the town’s firefighters to have everything they need and deserve as soon as it is possibly possible. But I don’t see how the Historic District Commission could possibly approve the proposal to build a new fire station at 139 Great Road. It would be an abject dereliction of their duty. Even without a historic home or historic district it would be a massive scar on the beautiful approach to the Center.
 
Although I have lived in New York City for decades, I will always have only one hometown, and the “Hobson’s Choice” being offered to Bedford’s townspeople is very distressing. If the only real alternative to this site is the TD Bank location then the only legitimate option to permanently disfiguring the town would be to take that work. It was the obvious solution pre-pandemic because it is the obvious solution.
 
Even though the eminent domain process would be challenging, the cost to Bedford of spoiling the Great Road hill is not simply a matter of dollars and cents. The historic district is held in trust for future generations. The difference between the fair market value of the commercial TD site and the price of 139 Great Road certainly matters but the Historic District Commission only exists to protect the town from letting near-term urgencies compromise the character of the town itself. That matters more.
 
But there is another way to look at the problem. It is common here in New York to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in towers that are built on ground leases. Half of London is built on 99-year ground leases. When TD Bank moved to their present site, foot traffic into banks was far greater. Today, the TD parking lot and the bank itself seem almost empty whenever I’ve gone in. If the Town gave it a good deal to move to a suitable location, the landlord would quite possibly consider a long-term ground lease as an ideal way to maintain ownership and have long-term guaranteed income. The demolition and site preparation would be far quicker and less disruptive than at 139 Great Road and the tax dollars that would start coming in once the Radiance Laboratory is sold would be the icing on the cake. 

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