Bedford Planning Board Weighs Zoning Bylaw Changes and Considers Community Survey

Bedford’s Planning Board discussed potential zoning bylaw amendments regarding requirements for two-family dwellings and decided to distribute an online survey to residents to gather public feedback.

During the June 25 meeting, Jacinda Barbehenn recommended that the Board reach out to residents for feedback in order to ensure that the Board is best meeting the town’s needs. She additionally highlighted the potential impact of new zoning upon taxpayers. Lloyd and Gittens both expressed enthusiasm at the notion of a town-wide survey in which residents could provide feedback online.  Steven Hagan agreed that an anonymous survey would be useful and additionally recommended bringing this topic to Town Meeting for discussion.

At present, there are only five parcels in Bedford that meet the requirements of Section 4.2.2 of the town bylaws for two-family dwellings. According to Section 4.2.2 two-family dwellings are limited to residential districts and restricted to the conversion of a pre-1945 single-family dwelling (by special permit) or building on a new lot that was in existence in 1992 with one and a half times the minimum lot area.

Other Massachusetts communities have remedied concerns similar to Bedford’s. Planner Tony Fields cited the example of Dennis, where there is an increased lot size requirement for two-family dwellings, and explained how Lexington has adjusted its floor area ratios in order to encourage more two-family dwellings. He also highlighted the ways in which each town has tailored its zoning bylaws to meet its unique needs.

After Fields offered his insights, the Board opened its discussion to members’ opinions and questions.

Amy Lloyd expressed concerns that encouraging two-family housing may incur a backlash from residents, some of whom may associate multi-family housing with an increase in urbanization. She also shared her opinion that a change in bylaws may further fuel existing political tensions in town. She additionally cited current economic volatility and its possible impact upon the real estate market.

Chris Gittens suggested adjusting the bylaws so that two-family and one-family dwellings have equal floor ratios and recommended that two-family homes be permitted in multiple districts. He asserted that the best solution would be to remove both the special permit requirements and the pre-1945 requirement for conversion of single-family dwellings. He also stressed the need to implement measures that will allow housing costs in Bedford to become more in alignment with inflation.

Barbehenn suggested removing district designations and reverting the town’s bylaws to one of their earlier iterations. She also shared Gittens’ concerns regarding the housing market and housing costs.  Hagan also highlighted residents’ fears that changes in zoning could impact the value of their homes.

The Board ultimately decided to continue their discussion during their next meeting when the full Board will be in attendance. The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, at 7 pm via Zoom.

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