Undeveloped acreage on the north side of Carlisle Road may not be an ideal site for a 139-unit mixed-use project in response to the town’s recent housing needs study, the author of the concept acknowledged at an informational meeting in Town Hall on Tuesday.
But Brian DeVellis, the land-use attorney and landscape architect, said he needs to pursue the process to the point where detailed analysis can take place. And DeVellis and the Bedford Select Board are not in the same place regarding the starting line.
DeVellis’s plan is defined as a Local Initiative Project (LIP), which means that under state law, the proposal can bypass zoning density requirements if at least a quarter of the housing units meet the state definition of “affordable.”
If the plan is endorsed by the Housing Partnership and Select Board, and certified by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, it moves to the Zoning Board of Appeals for consideration of a comprehensive permit. DeVellis said he considers that the main event.
But at a Jan. 30 meeting, the Select Board agreed that DeVellis needs to confer with municipal department heads, provide a “general narrative” about traffic impact, and “engage the community” in the details of the plan before any endorsement will be discussed.
On Tuesday at the second of two informational meetings, DeVellis told about three dozen people, “I think a lot of what they asked for we provided.” He said “It’s too early to talk about traffic mitigation because we don’t know yet. At some point there will be the traffic study, a wildlife study, an arbor resources study.”
He also said, “This is a conceptual site and the town has to take on the public part of this.” But at their Jan. 30 meeting, the Select Board agreed that it was still a private proposal.
Tuesday night, responding to a neighbor who called the proposal “a recipe for disaster,” DeVellis replied that “everything is solvable. But you have to get to the start first. We can’t get to that point until the town says we think that site works for something.”
He also acknowledged that after full evaluation, the conclusion could be that the proposal won’t succeed. “Anybody who develops anything in Bedford has to solve all the boxes the town wants you to check. So, let’s walk the site, let’s see if it doesn’t make sense. If the town doesn’t want it, I’d be happy to come back with option B, C, or D.” That last option, he noted, is nine single-family houses that can be built by right.
“Something is going to happen on this site,” he said. If the proposal he is putting forward is not what the town wants, perhaps an overlay zone allowing seniors-only housing would be more palatable, he suggested.
In his opening comments on Tuesday, DeVellis acknowledged that “after hearing concerns, we have made some changes,” although he chose to be consistent with Tuesday’s presentation from an earlier session. “We’re changing these plans as we continue to go. We will come back with modifications to this.”
DeVellis emphasized that his intent is to fulfill the gaps confirmed by the 2019 town housing needs study: “underserved” populations such as empty-nesters, workers, veterans, senior citizens, and young families.
He related that he gained control of the 35-acre site in December 2021. It has been most recently used for storage of felled trees, disabled vehicles, and refuse, “which will be improved regardless,” he told the group. The tract includes only eight and a half developable acres. The wetlands have been delineated, he added.
“We are at the very early stages here” was a theme DeVellis mentioned early and repeated. He pointed out that last spring the Select Board responded favorably to the concept, and the Housing Partnership has endorsed it twice.
The combination of nine single-family houses, eight duplexes, 27 townhouses, and 87 apartments, including 36 for the elderly, for purchase and rent, represents “the framework for what the town of Bedford as a whole desires,” he said, referencing the study.
He acknowledged that residents on and around Carlisle Road have a different perspective, and he hopes those concerns can be balanced with the need. “We are committed to working with the town in any form or fashion to create a unique community.”
That would feature a streetscape and scale designed “so residents can meet and socialize within pedestrian-friendly features, surrounding a central common.”
Asked what will happen if ultimately, he doesn’t receive town support, DeVellis said other options include a senior overlay district separate from the LIP process, a planned residential development, which requires Planning Board approval, or a conventional subdivision.
“Our goal is to develop a community rather than a subdivision,” DeVellis said, emphasizing “a continuum of residency.” He theorized that a young renter who grew up in Bedford who no longer needed an affordable apartment could buy a townhouse or a house “and not outgrow your neighborhood.”
Most of the opposition centered around traffic, and DeVellis envisioned that once the plan reaches the Board of Appeals, detailed studies will follow.
But North Road resident Ann Bickford, whose career in mass transit management spans more than 30 years, said the traffic count data are already available from the town’s recent traffic optimization study of The Great Road corridor.
Adding the likely volume from the new housing, Bickford said, the peak-hour volume at the intersection of Carlisle and North Roads would increase by 42 percent.
“I’m concerned that there is no traffic solution at that intersection,” Bickford said, and DeVellis acknowledged that in the end that may be right. But first, he said, it has to be determined that “this site is even worth looking at. At the end of the day, it might need to be nine house lots, or 75 senior units in a senior overlay district that has minimal traffic. Right now, we don’t know.”
A neighborhood resident, Ellis Kriesberg, a member of the Housing Partnership, cited alternative sources indicating that the intersection volume would increase by only 6 or 7 percent. “That means if 15 cars are ahead of you, one of them is likely to have come from this project,” he said. “It’s significant but not a catastrophe.”
But Dunster Road resident Bridget Clayton noted that the optimization totals were gathered during the pandemic when traffic volume was below normal.
Neighborhood residents were the most vocal opponents. Tom Barnett, who lives across the street, said the plan is “more than should be going into that spot. Lisa Litchfield asserted, “The traffic is not going to get solved and I think this development is way too big.”
There were supporters as well – from outside the neighborhood. Rich Daugherty of Elm Street said old residents want to remain in Bedford “and we need these kinds of projects.” Sue Swanson of Shawsheen Road also applauded the concept but recognized the “pain and frustration” resulting from traffic congestion.
Kathy Jarvis of Dunster Road observed that if the site lends itself to this kind of density, the town could rezone it. “I think the conclusion is that this site doesn’t work,” she said
DeVellis replied, “Bedford has an affordable housing shortage. This could be a site that doesn’t work. But another group of people in their backyard would agree and say we don’t like it. The town needs this somewhere or you wouldn’t have the housing needs study.”
He predicted, “This isn’t going to stay woods. One way or the other, this is going to be developed. I’ve got probably 50 different layouts on this site. The easiest thing to do is to sell off the lots – I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. It’s not the highest and best use of this site.”
DeVellis referred people to the website https://www.devellis.net for access to detailed information.