Planning Board Issues Draft New Zoning Rules on Two-Family Dwellings; Opportunity to Comment

September 15, 2022

Submitted by Catherine Perry on behalf of the Bedford Planning Board

During the last year, the Planning Board has been considering changes to the Zoning Bylaw’s provisions for two-family dwellings. The aim is to broaden the circumstances in which two-family dwellings are allowed while applying some limitations on size and design.

The Board has now produced a draft of the bylaw amendment, viewable on the website at 5th_draft_proposed_section_4.2.2-amended_for_discussion_on_102522.pdf ( This will be used for discussion at a public hearing on October 25. At least one additional hearing session will be held to increase opportunities for input. The Board is also interested in receiving comments in any form, including letters or emails, which may be sent to the planning office staff. Board members will be available for one-on-one discussions on this and other matters at Bedford Day on Saturday, Sept. 17.

The Board is targeting the March 2023 Annual Town Meeting for a vote on the matter, so there is plenty of time for discussion.

The background to the proposed changes lies in the Comprehensive Plan of 2013 and the Housing Study of 2019. The Comprehensive Plan drew attention to the increasing number of small households in the population structure, the rise of house prices relative to incomes, and the tendency for new single-family houses to be larger (‘mansionization’). The Housing Study set out a number of strategies for helping the housing market to serve a wider range of needs, one of which was the expansion of opportunities to create two-family houses. As time progresses, there is increasing concern and evidence about escalating house prices, difficulties faced by new young households or seniors looking to downsize, and social exclusion.

The bylaw currently allows two-family dwellings in all residential districts but only under two scenarios:

  • Conversion of a single-family dwelling that existed in 1945, by special permit.
  • New construction on an unbuilt lot that existed in 1992 and that has 1 ½ times the standard minimum lot area (fewer than half a dozen remain).
Two buildings
New two-family house (top) and one-family house (bottom) – examples from Concord. Courtesy image (c) 2022 all rights reserved

It also sets conditions about parking and appearance and a minimum unit size in conversions. This current bylaw dates from the 1990s and is more restrictive than earlier versions.

So what changes does the proposed text make? It:

  • Adds a purpose statement at the start of the section;
  • Keeps the allowance for conversion of pre 1945 single-family dwellings to two-family dwellings, while setting a size limit on any additions involved and eliminating the minimum size for the new dwelling unit and the need for a special permit if the property is fully conforming;
  • Widens the other circumstances in which a two-family dwelling may be created but sets criteria that limit its size, based on the lot area (using Floor Area Ratio and Lot Coverage, selected to roughly equate to the larger single-family houses being built today);
  • Provides criteria for the ZBA to refer to when reviewing proposals for two-family dwellings on nonconforming lots (which need a special permit);
  • In all cases, keeps rules controlling parking and related landscape screening;
  • Reinforces that an Accessory Dwelling Unit is not allowed on a lot with a two-family dwelling.

The Planning Board invites questions and comments.




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