Planning Board Members Advocate for Facilitating Two-Family Houses

January 5, 2023

Members of the Planning Board Tuesday advocated for proposed zoning bylaw changes that would facilitate additional two-family dwellings in Bedford.

Each member cited benefits during a public hearing on the proposal, which is expected to be included on March’s annual town meeting warrant. The virtual hearing was continued to Jan. 24.

Resident Nicholas Howard asked what the board meant when they said that ‘we need’ the bylaw amendments.

Jacinda Barbehenn explained that there’s a statewide housing shortage, and it’s our duty as a town, to keep our economy running, to build more housing so that the people that need to work or want to work here, can live here too” Todd Crowley agreed and noted that “it is a goal of Bedford and Massachusetts to provide greater diversity of housing.”

Amy Lloyd highlighted the nation’s economic difficulties and the need for more affordable housing to be provided to residents. Steven Hagan, board chair, cited the fact that the need for more housing diversity is an issue across eastern Massachusetts, and not just Bedford. Barbehenn agreed and noted that greater housing diversity will allow for greater socio-economic and age diversity in Bedford. 

Lloyd acknowledged that residents have expressed concerns of overcrowding, but insisted that she does not believe that the provisions will result in an influx of residents. She also maintained that multi-family dwellings could be utilized as in-law apartments, homes for divorced/separated couples, and other living arrangements within single families. Hagan agreed and said that there is no projected ‘bubble’ of new housing or residents.

Howard suggested waiting until the MBTA-community multi-family housing guidelines are finalized before changing any bylaws. He was referencing a state law requiring MBTA towns and cities to zone at least 50 acres for housing with a density of at least 15 units per acre.

Member Chris Gittins confirmed that the bylaw amendments are not related to the MBTA guidelines. 

Howard asked if comparable, towns have implemented similar changes regrading two-family dwellings, and if so what impact those changes have had. Planning Director Tony Fields said that while he did not have statistics available, he has researched the topic and could confirm that similar changes have had no material impact upon the towns that have implemented them. 

Also participating in the hearing was resident and builder David Bernstein, who agreed that a clear definition of “gross square footage” would benefit the community. He raised concerns that proposed driveway restrictions may result in more cars parking on streets. Fields explained that the one-space-per-unit designation is a minimum amount; property owners can provide any number of spaces that they choose. 

Bernstein also asked why different provisions would be applied to lots pre- and post-March 1, 1945. Fields explained that the 1945 designation was carried over from prior bylaws and that the board determined that it would reduce confusion and avoid burdening owners of properties that were built before the bylaws were changed. 

Lloyd noted that the 1945 designation also allows owners of older homes to have more options to maintain their properties and thereby keep the town’s historical aesthetic intact. 

Bernstein also asked why the board decided to require a floor-area ratio of .15. Fields clarified that the floor-area ratio allows property owners to create more, smaller, units within the same floor space.

Former Planning Board member Jeff Cohen asked if the board could provide a price differential between single-family and multi-family homes. Cohen said that he was skeptical that the cost difference would provide much benefit to residents experiencing difficulties purchasing a one- family home. 

Bernstein commented that according to his research a multi-family dwelling would cost more per square foot than a single-family home. Lloyd argued that while residents may not be able to afford to buy a multi-family home the properties would most likely be rented out or converted into condominiums that residents could afford. 

The meeting began with comments from board members regarding the most recent revisions to the proposed amendments. 

Lloyd expressed concern that the terminology in one provision reads too much like a legal document and may confuse residents. She also urged the board to provide a clearer definition of gross square footage. 

Barbehenn noted that residents have voiced their dissatisfaction that under the new bylaw no accessory dwelling units may be permitted on the same lot as a multi-family dwelling.

[Editor’s Note: Updated on 1/8/2023 6:37pm]

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