The Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals has continued deliberations until Dec. 8 on the proposed 20-apartment development at 330 South Rd. near the intersection at Summer Street, more than three months after the initial hearing.
Last week, the board held its third continued session on the local initiative project, which, under state law, expedites permitting for multi-unit developments that include affordable housing. The board is the last stop in the process now that the plan, as required, has been endorsed by the Select Board, the Housing Partnership, and the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Although several Board of Appeals members expressed concerns about parking, trash removal, and unloading zones, near the end of the discussion they indicated that they would ultimately approve the permit.
“We are fine-tuning it,” observed Chair Robert Kalantari. “I don’t see anyone against this. We’re trying to make it better.” Member Thomas Flannery noted that “the applicant has listened to almost all of what we suggested.” Added member Kay Hamilton, “It’s not going to be an easy project to complete, but overall, they’ve probably done as good a job as they can. The project has tried to address everything we asked for and done it in fairly creative ways.”
The so-called Village at Merriam Farm, owned by Jennifer and Steve Soillis of Concord, comprises four buildings on close to a two-acre tract on the southeast corner of South Road and Summer Street. Three of the buildings – two barns and a house – are to be repurposed, according to the proposal. There is also a new two-unit townhouse, each with a garage.
The Zoning Board is also awaiting feedback from the Department of Public Works and Fire Department before acting on the permit.
Board member Angelo Colasante said the town is aiding the developer through the local initiative process, which bypasses zoning considerations. He wondered how the housing proposal benefits the town.
But Margot Fleischman, the Select Board’s liaison to the Board of Appeals, explained that the town is actually a co-applicant with the owner.
“We have signed on with the developer who has done this work on behalf of the town to provide these additional types of housing,” she said. The process is a “negotiation” among several boards, she said, with the “first and foremost” goal being affordability.
The plan also “provides much-needed housing in types that don’t exist and preserves historic structures from our agrarian past,” she said. “There has been a lot of thoughtful negotiation about this project along the way.”
Colasante pointed out that the town’s 2019 housing study identified a demand for more units accommodating the elderly, veterans, and young workers. He said he would like to see some of the units categorically designated with a preference for Bedford residents.
Fleischman pointed out that “the entire process is designed to get all of the boards’ perspectives,” especially regarding affordability. The Housing Partnership recommended that the Village at Meriam Farms accommodate a lower affordability entry point, she said. “We don’t require any one applicant to bear the responsibility of solving all the affordable housing issues we have.”
Planning Board member Todd Crowley added, “This is the sort of development the Planning Board is encouraging, the sort of housing the town is lacking right now with appropriate density for this area.”
Pamela Brown, the developers’ attorney, began the session by pointing out that board concerns about traffic circulation, placement of sidewalks and walkways, snow storage, location of trash containers, and handicapped parking have been addressed.
The plans have been evolving for three years, Brown said. “We’re saving a house and barns, and we worked hard to come up with the appropriate unit mix. It provides needed housing that could be attractive to everyone from aging empty-nesters to disabled veterans to young professionals buying their first homes.”
Much of the session focused on parking. Brown pointed out that the number of spaces greatly exceeds the Planning Board requirement of one-and-a-half per unit in a multifamily complex.
Kalantari was especially concerned about the number of spaces. “There are 46 bedrooms. Each bedroom could have two cars. You may end up with a lot more cars than you think,” he told Brown.
Member Jeffrey Dearing said the plans do not allow for unloading a vehicle close to some of the residences. Hamilton said, “I agree with Mr. Dearing. Cars dropping off children are going to park on the street and the traffic is going to be jammed.” Colasante agreed that in some situations, “there’s going to be parking all over the street.”
“You live in single-family homes; you just assume this is not going to work,” Brown answered. “With the diversity of units we have, I think two spaces for units is quite sufficient.”
Dearing said that since the main parking area is not close to some building entrances, “you’re forcing visitors to the farthest reaches, or even the person coming home late at night. I think the big issue is accessing the buildings conveniently from the vehicle.”
Fleischman, a former Planning Board member, said the town does not make similar parking demands on conventional multi-unit developments. She added, “You could cover this entire property with parking to satisfy a worst-case scenario. I don’t think that would do justice to the landscape.”
Member Lucille Wilson said there doesn’t appear to be sufficient land to further expand parking; “I think they’ve done what they can.”
Wilson asked if the board could allocate parking spaces to units. Colasante and Kalantari were receptive to the idea. Brown said her experience has been that such a system doesn’t work.
Ultimately, “there will be a management company for the best interests of folks who live there. They should decide how to best allocate,” Fleischman said. Flannery concurred. As chair of the homeowners’ association at Hartwell Farms, he said, “Every issue that the board has raised, we deal with. These are behavioral issues and it’s the responsibility of management to enforce its own rules.”
The board also read a message from an abutter, concerned about lighting and noise from the parking area. Brown said there will be a buffer of fencing or landscaping, lighting will be installed to prevent “overspill,” and there will be terms in leases about noise. “We look forward to working with abutters as we move ahead.”