The Bedford Select Board on Monday agreed that a proposed 139-unit mixed housing complex proposed for land off Carlisle Road won’t be on its agenda until at least April so the developer can expand public outreach and identify town departments’ specific concerns.
In a letter to Brian DeVellis, the board and Town Manager Sarah Stanton demanded a point-by-point description of how the proposal fulfills goals of the 2019 town housing study and the 2013 comprehensive plan; evidence of discussions with department heads; a “general narrative” about traffic impact; and a site plan that includes a “street-level perspective.”
Also, the board said all neighbors within at least 300 feet of the site – including some streets that connect to North Road – must be notified of the public meeting on the proposal, planned for Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Reed Room of Town Hall.
DeVellis, a lawyer and land-use consultant, is proposing a “pedestrian-friendly” neighborhood on 35 acres on the north side of Carlisle Road, not far from the compost center, which is on the south side. Single-family houses would front onto the street with duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, and a three-story, 36-unit senior housing apartment building along an interior loop road.
The site isn’t zoned for that level of density, but that requirement can be bypassed if the plan is designated a Local Initiative Project (LIP), requiring at least 25 percent of the units to meet the state definition of affordable. A LIP requires endorsement by the Housing Partnership and Select Board, clearance by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, and a comprehensive permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“We have to get the town feedback and then negotiate with the developer some of the things to make this right,” said board member Shawn Hanegan, who worked with Stanton on the text of the letter. “People are feeling left out. We are trying to get the best sense of what people are saying so we can negotiate on behalf of the town.”
“This is not a Select Board project. This is still in the realm of the developer,” Stanton stressed. “The public needs to know this is not a done deal. This is a private developer project that ultimately will require Select Board support.”
“It’s not like the Select Board is a check box before going to the ZBA. There are expectations,” asserted Hanegan.
Board Chair Emily Mitchell said, “There is a sense of urgency coming from the developer that is in a sense imposed and not real. It is very difficult to make a fully-informed decision if you haven’t heard from everyone.”
DeVellis first introduced his plans to the board in April, and the concept was well-received. However, this week’s memorandum recounted initial conversations when “it was very clearly expressed to the developer that this would have to be a robust public process.” Stanton said she and then-Chair Margot Fleischman advised that concerns from neighbors were predictable.
“I have been very disappointed by the amount of information provided by the development team,” Stanton declared. She said DeVellis was urged several weeks ago to “thoughtfully and meaningfully engage the community.”
DeVellis agreed to hold two public meetings, but only 12 neighbors were invited to the first one last Tuesday, “which was totally unacceptable for outreach,” Stanton said. She noted that attendance was boosted when town department heads and staff members were urged to attend.
Stanton said Select Board members are going to want to know that DeVellis has heard the concerns of municipal departments, as well as the specific monetary requests from the community preservation fund and the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust.
The project needs its own website, Stanton added. A previous web address provided by the developer was not working properly, she said. “When all of the work is done, then there can be a discussion and presentation before the Select Board. So please – Do better. Share more. Provide better transparency.”
Board member Margot Fleischman said she remembers “saying the most important thing is to gain the perspectives and hear the concerns of the neighborhood on such a radical change of use.” Fleischman said she thinks the concept offers a range of positive “opportunities.”
“You’re not anti-housing if you’re asking for more engagement,” Stanton said. She acknowledged that there has been a lot of conversation, “but that doesn’t replace actual community engagement.”
Three neighborhood residents spoke in opposition to the proposal during the public comment segment of the meeting.
“This development would be way overkill, in my opinion,” said Tom Barnett. “I don’t think the town needs this. Bedford already has done its share. Are we going to be more like Burlington or are we going to be more like Carlisle?”
Lisa Litchfield said, “Bedford’s rental stock is one of the highest in the area already.” She said not all neighbors have been notified by mail about the plans. “We feel these three-story buildings are completely out of character for our neighborhood.” She added that traffic “is just going to be horrendous.”
“For a project of this magnitude, I just don’t know how it got this far,” said Karen Dunn. “There essentially has been no outreach. No one in this process is representing residents.” She also predicted a negative impact on schools and traffic.
Appearing on Zoom, Planning Board member Jacinda Barbehenn acknowledged that “the engagement maybe hasn’t been done in the right way.” However, she said “you can’t put all the responsibility on the developer,” because the plan is a response to a municipal housing study “that said we all wanted these things to begin with.”
During the April meeting, DeVellis said he hoped to be in a position to start construction by the end of 2022. By right, the site could be developed with nine single-family houses.