Old Billerica Road Housing Proposal Elicits Range of Concerns

September 15, 2022

A wide range of concerns – from board members as well as neighbors — marked the Planning Board’s public hearing Tuesday on a proposed residential development planned for the site of a former Old Billerica Road horse farm.

The hearing was continued until Tuesday, Sept. 27. Planning Board meetings are exclusively on Zoom.

The proposed development, known as Michael Bacon Way, would consolidate three parcels (229, 251A, and 251F Old Billerica Road) with the retention of significant open space.

Current plans call for 13 units, although the total could reach 17 if some are designated affordable housing. The development would include townhouse style duplexes as well as single family cottage style homes. Unit sizes have been proposed to be between 1,800 square feet and 2,680 square feet.

The board heard a presentation by attorney Pamela Brown and civil engineer Daniel Carr on behalf of Bilka, LLC. The proposal requires a special permit.

Plans call for the Bacon House at 229 Old Billerica Road – considered the oldest house in Bedford — to be “relocated slightly” in order to allow for a new roadway to provide emergency vehicle access.

Brown said that the house would be restored and preserved. She also noted that the developers are now reconsidering plans to convert the adjacent barn into a mail room and it may be preserved as well.

Carr noted intent to comply with wetlands regulations. He also said that the septic tank on the property will be considered abandoned and the community sewer system will be utilized instead.

The property is part of a four-property “syndicate” with common access to Old Billerica Road. Brown offered to conduct additional research to confirm correct ownership and maintain communication with the syndicate’s owners.

Planning Board member Amy Lloyd commented that she feels the proposal does not include enough sustainable energy options. While she acknowledged that solar panels may be more costly in the short term, Lloyd maintained that adding them would ultimately increase the property’s value. Brown argued that the prevalence of trees on and surrounding the property would limit the use and efficiency of solar panels.

Lloyd also felt that the way in which several units were measured was deceptive. Additionally, she thought that the proposed price was too low given the property’s location and size. She asked that the plans be altered to reflect accurate measurements and provide greater detail regarding parking and driveway access. Brown noted that she is working with the Fire Department and the Department of Public Works to determine the best width for the driveway.

Lloyd further asked for specific information regarding universal design features that will be included in the development.

Board member Todd Crowley asked if the public way will be unidirectional and whether street parking will be allowed. Brown replied that those matters are still under consideration.

Crowley also asked how much syndicate owners can modify the land and if they will require the whole group’s approval for modifications. Brown explained that modification terms would be provided in the “condo docs” that have not been drafted yet. Crowley also asked for additional details concerning the basement rooms in order to clarify measurements.

In answer to a question from board member Chris Gittins, Brown affirmed that there are no plans to modify the common driveway and agreed to provide additional information regarding access, particularly for emergency vehicles. She also agreed to conduct additional research into the titles of previous owners.

Attorney Johanna Schneider, speaking on behalf of abutter Emily Wade, expressed concerns regarding the accuracy of the plans and whether the tree buffering is adequate. She requested that the public not be permitted to access the open space area via the public way.  She stated that the proposed plans do not meet the town’s requirements and residents’ needs and therefore should not be approved.

Wade said she is worried that the properties are too close together and repeated Lloyd’s assertion that the development is not utilizing enough solar panels. Wade’s co-counsel, attorney Paul Laudano, reported that he has been reaching out to residents to inform them of their property rights and stated that several residents have informed him of their concerns regarding overcrowding and tree buffering.

In answer to a question from neighbor Paul Shuman, Carr replied that the development would be unlikely to have a significant impact on area water pressure. Shuman additionally raised his concern that the mail room is close to his residence and may raise noise issues if there are activities planned in that location. Brown explained that the plans are still too early in development to confirm noise levels, but agreed to maintain communication with him as plans progress.

Shuman additionally asked if the landscaping as planned would increase the local bee population. Carr confirmed that the landscaping would increase wildlife, but said that he would ensure that the seed mix would be minimally attractive to bees. Shuman also raised concerns regarding the density of the development.

Larry Croes expressed his fear that excess water from the development would drain downhill into neighboring properties. Carr explained that catch basins are planned to address this issue. Croes further asked for clarification as to how much tree lining would be eliminated in order to make room for the public way. Carr acknowledged that a definitive count has not been made, but noted that several trees will remain in place as of the current plans.

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