The significant residential development proposed for 35 acres off Carlisle Road took a giant step toward reality on Monday when the Bedford Select Board voted to endorse the plan.
The proposal, currently for 139 mixed units, is framed under a state law that bypasses zoning density requirements if at least 25 percent of the units meet the definition of “affordable.”
Called a Local Initiative Project (LIP), it also requires Select Board approval, as well as confirmation by the state Department of Housing and Community Development that the proposal is physically and financially feasible.
The final stop – and the one involving the most time and detail – is the Zoning Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit.
Brian DeVellis, the land-use attorney and landscape architect who first announced the Carlisle Road concept in the summer of 2021, presented the current iteration of 139 units of single-family, duplex, and townhouse, as well as two three-story apartment buildings, one of them a 36-unit senior complex.
Part of the Select Board’s approval will be several recommendations addressing some of the concerns of neighbors and others that have been expressed at public meetings. The main points being communicated to the state agency are:
- Replacement of a proposed three-story, 51-unit apartment building with townhouses or duplexes. DeVellis agreed to calculate whether the resulting reduction in total units would still be acceptable financially.
- A reduction of total rental units, offset by more options to buy. Current plans call for 50 percent rentals, plus 87 apartments.
- Restrictions – if allowable – that would guarantee that the 36-unit apartment building would be exclusively for senior citizens.
- A contribution by the developer to help finance improvements that would mitigate traffic congestion at the junction of The Great, North, and Concord Roads (Willson Park). Board member Margot Fleischman stated that the magnitude of the development plans “calls into question whether we need to reprioritize” some remaining elements of the Great Road Master Plan, including “the Willson Park conundrum. We have some ideas and options and resources and we need to put our commitment behind the intersection projects that need to get done regardless.”
Shawn Hanegan, clerk of the Select Board, presided during the discussion. The chair, Bopha Malone, recused herself because she is a close neighbor on Carlisle Road. Also recusing himself was board member Paul Mortenson, whose residential property off North Road is contiguous to the site. Both were advised by the state Ethics Commission.
DeVellis repeated his emphasis on the results of the 2019 town housing survey, as well as the 2013 comprehensive plan, calling for housing diversity and affordability. He acknowledged that the survey results prioritize differently from nearby neighbors, and it’s up to the Select Board and the Zoning Board to find a balance.
Only about eight-and-a-half of the acres are developable; the rest are wetlands. The current plan is for a loop road around a “village green” and a “meetinghouse.” DeVellis emphasized that “our goal is to develop a community rather than a subdivision,” where residents have the housing choices allowing them to “age in place”
DeVellis emphasized that the Select Board’s action represents a starting point, a conceptual approval. After the DHCD confirms eligibility, “that’s where we start doing actual design plans, impacts on traffic, water, sewer, wildlife.” He said he has met with relevant town department heads. “We ran a successful hydrant flow test showing adequate water quantity and pressure,” he noted.
“All homes will be energy efficient through codes and efficiency of design,” DeVellis said. He also plans to connect the project to the commercial area at the beginning of Carlisle Road with a sidewalk.
“The issues that the project is trying to address are not going away,” said board member Emily Mitchell. She noted that it is premature to try to quantify the overall financial impact on the town, especially since a project like this offers intangible benefits, like a family’s feelings upon finding a place to live.
Hanegan stressed that there is a need for more housing options separate from the inventory of state-defined “affordable” units. He pushed for consideration of replacing one of the apartment buildings “with townhouses or duplexes that people could buy.”
DeVellis said he feels there is a need for short-term rental options. He agreed to determine if the financial pro forma would accommodate the change Hanegan suggested, resulting in 15-18 units. “The neighbors are not fans of the big building,” DeVellis acknowledged, adding, “I probably would not be either. But it fills a need. If there’s another way to do it, I’m happy to look at it.”
When the proposal lands on the Zoning Board agenda, that panel is “going to have a slew of issues to change,” and he expects he will be working with other town boards together, DeVellis added.
A few residents expressed concerns about the plan during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. Their points were addressed during the discussion that followed a couple of hours later.
William Barnett, who has lived across the street from the site for decades, told the board, “Traffic is an issue that won’t go away,” especially by “quadrupling the population of Carlisle Road with one development.” He also called the proposed multi-story apartment houses “unnecessary and a potential disaster.”
After the meeting, on the way out of the room, Barnett told DeVellis that replacing one of the apartment buildings as suggested would make a big difference to him.
North Road resident Anne E. Bickford, an expert on public transportation, also predicted that traffic volume would overwhelm the intersection of Carlisle and North Roads. “I don’t know if there’s a solution at that intersection” short of changing its geometry and adding traffic signals, Bickford said, citing a recent study projecting those steps for 15 years from now at a cost of $1.5 million.
DeVellis said he submitted a traffic study to the Select Board showing an increase of less than 4 percent during peak hours. He noted that more than 25 percent of the units are targeted for older residents who are not commuting.
Carlisle Road residents Sergey Gorkavy and Jeffrey Porter also expressed concerns about vehicles. The project was supported by Jacinda Barbehenn of the Planning Board, Christina Wilgren, chair of the Housing Partnership, and Karen Wilson of Mothers Out Front.
Molly Haskell, chair of the Arbor Resources Committee, said her group urges “that stands of trees be set aside for preservation and that this be part of the design process,” and that preservation of street trees be required. DeVellis said he was amenable to those conditions.
Hanegan noted that if the LIP is not approved there are other options for development, ranging from nine single-family houses that can be built by right to a rezoning.