Select Board Endorses Easing Two-Family Dwelling Limits

By Lauren Ennis and Mike Rosenberg

The Bedford Select Board Monday unanimously voted to recommend that Town Meeting approve the proposed zoning bylaw amendments that would expand opportunities to build two-family dwellings.

The article will be placed near the end of the March 27 Annual Town Meeting warrant, as the board and Town Manager Sarah Stanton feel that it is one of the few components that will engender widespread interest. Most of the remainder of the warrant can be characterized as normal town business.

Meanwhile, the Planning Board last week used its most recent public hearing on proposed zoning amendments that would facilitate two-family dwellings to do some fine-tuning on the town meeting presentation.

As no members of the public appeared to offer questions or comments, the meeting moved to comments from the board.

The proposals would allow two-family dwellings in all residential zones; eliminate current language restricting newer houses from conversion; and add floor-area ratios that would ensure that a two-family house doesn’t exceed the size of a single-family house on the same lot.

Member Amy Lloyd requested an analysis to determine the likely square footage of an average two-family home. Lloyd and Assistant Planning Director Catherine Perry agreed that such an analysis would be useful, as most Bedford two-family homes are smaller and older than the average two-family home in Massachusetts.

Planning Director Tony Fields recommended comparing the town’s two-family homes to single-family homes on comparable lots. He also highlighted the fact that the smaller lots reflect the era in which they were developed and suggested that lot sizes may need to be adjusted in keeping with modern standards. 

Lloyd noted that the board should avoid becoming too technical during its presentation to avoid confusing the public. Fields emphasized the importance of ensuring that the presentation is as concise as possible, while still clear to the public. 

Members Todd Crowley, Chris Gittins, Jacinda Barbehenn, and Lloyd volunteered to be on a subcommittee to draft the presentation and community outreach campaign.

The board resolved to draft a bullet list of points to be included in their presentation and submit that list to Fields this week. Fields will then offer his comments on the list and the board will hold a working meeting on Feb. 7 to discuss his recommendations.

The Town Meeting warrant closes on Feb. 14, which is also the continuation date for the public hearing on the amendments. 

Last week’s Planning Board discussion began with Fields recounting his presentation of the proposed changes at a recent Select Board meeting. 

At the Jan. 23 Select Board meeting, Fields pointed out that easing the availability of two-family dwellings is the first recommendation in the 2019 town housing study.

“We’re trying to increase opportunities for what we call ‘missing middle’ housing,” he said. “We don’t see this having a significant impact on the number of people.”

Board member Ed Pierce inquired if the board considered reducing lot sizes so as to allow construction of more single-family houses. Reduction wasn’t on the agenda, Fields said.

He noted in answer to a comment from Select Board member Margot Fleischman that 44 percent of residential lots are labeled nonconforming.

Board Chair Emily Mitchell noted that, on the question of expanding and diversifying housing options, “There is no silver bullet. We are going to try a lot of things. I appreciate all of the hard work that has gone into this so far.”

Note: According to Assistant Planner Catherine Perry, the Planning Board’s public hearing was closed on Jan. 24.

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Catherine Perry
February 1, 2023 5:39 pm

A correction: The Planning Board’s public hearing was closed on January 24.

Editor
February 2, 2023 7:22 pm

Thanks Catherine – we have made the correction in the story.

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