Board Members Say They Can’t Prioritize Overlay District Idea

July 19, 2023

Bedford Planning Board members are intrigued by the concept of an overlay district in the center of town that would result in more opportunities for smaller houses.

But they agreed last week that they have too many current priorities to engage with the idea now.

Indeed, Chair Chris Gittins said including the concept into the board’s updated comprehensive plan next year would be an ideal response.

The proposed Center Neighborhood Overlay District was introduced at the Board’s June 27 meeting. Although initially focused on the proposed development of 49 Elm St., other parcels could be included in an overlay.

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Atty. Pamela Brown, representing David Goldbaum/Bespoke Renovations LLC, made the presentation, labeling the idea as “very preliminary.” She showed several sample locations for an overlay district. 

Brown said they are looking to provide higher-density, smaller residences. 

“The goal is to scale down the unit sizes so they would be attractive to downsizing seniors and allow for a smaller, less expensive housing stock,” she said. 

Goldbaum has a specific plan for 49 Elm: maintain the existing house, renovate the barn, and create a driveway to access three additional units, one a single and the other a two-family unit. 

Board member Amy Lloyd, at the board’s meeting on July 11, said, “We have certain issues that we have to deal with. Having multiple discussions about this starts to overshadow stuff that is more important.”

Noting that she resides within the overlay district as described, Lloyd said, “I am very pro different types of housing, the notion of cottage developments.” But she acknowledged that “there will be hard issues with the overlay that will have to be considered.”

Her colleague Jacinda Barbehenn agreed. “In principle, the concept is very interesting. In a year it will be way more advantageous to fold this into our comprehensive plan.”

Barbehenn pointed out that “this is coming from an outside applicant as a solution to allow a small group of people to do what they want.” Delaying action would mean “a broader and better way as a solution for all people,” she said.

“Given other priorities, I assume this isn’t for staff at November Town Meeting,” said Planning Director Tony Fields, adding that Brown and her clients “might create something for you to react to.”

Brown, at the June session, stressed that the goal of this introductory presentation was to see whether there is support from the Board for this type of development.

Under the proposal, any potential bylaw change would include criteria to keep residences small-scale and scattered, no more than eight units per lot, with a house size limit of 2,000 to 2,200 square feet. 

“We want to maximize pedestrian opportunities,” Goldbaum pointed out, highlighting the proximity of this property to schools, the library, and other amenities. 

Design criteria would include handicap-accessible, energy-efficient units with driveways for emergency vehicles, and appropriate landscaping.

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