Planning Board Members Laud Railroad Avenue Development Plan

This is a site of a proposed 9,500-square-foot residential and retail complex on a parcel at 1 Railroad Ave. Staff photo by Wayne Braverman

Members of the Bedford Planning Board on Tuesday extolled a 9,500-square-foot residential and retail complex proposed for a long-vacant parcel at 1 Railroad Ave., near the corner of South Road.

“I’m very much in favor of this,” said Amy Lloyd, the first board member to speak during a public hearing for a special permit. Her colleague Jacinda Barbehenn followed: “A lot of thought and consideration has gone into this. It’s a really good plan.”

“I think it’s a great project,” member Steve Hagan said. Todd Crowley stated, “It’s an interesting proposal. I do like it.” 

Added Chair Chris Gittins, “My overall impression is very positive. I think this would be a wonderful addition to that area of town. Thank you for a very thoughtful proposal.”

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The owners are Matt and Lizzie Dillon, who live nearby on Fern Way. They work in real estate management and development. Their attorney, Pamela Brown, said the site is within the Depot area mixed-use zone and has been “ripe for redevelopment.” She added that the Dillons have been sharing the details with neighbors and “I think overall, people are feeling like it’s a great project.”

The public hearing was continued until Tuesday, Aug. 8.

The plans call for nine residential units each on the second and third floors and retail and parking on the ground floor. There is also a plan for an 1,800-square-foot auxiliary building large enough for one or more retail, personal service, or restaurant uses. Also on the plans is a small public park. The site, less than one acre, has been used in recent years for vehicle storage.

Matt Dillon said there are plans for two affordable units, and units will be all-electric. He added that “we are absolutely open to solar panels on the roof. We will build to the highest standard that we can economically, including electric heat pumps and all the efficiencies we can capture,” although “we think we will need gas to be marketable to a retail tenant” such as a restaurant.

On Tuesday, the only area of disagreement was parking for residents. The proposal provides for 17 spaces at the ground-floor level and 14 open parking spaces for the businesses. There are also 10 on-street parking spaces on the plan, which Dowdy said can serve as a traffic-calming measure. Bicycle storage is planned for the underneath parking area.

Speakers noted the proximity of the site to the MBTA bus and the Minuteman Bikeway. Lloyd said the ratio is “perfectly justifiable,” considering the location. “I’m inclined to say one space per unit is adequate,” Gittins stated. Crowley said, “I’m slightly concerned about that.” Some residents were skeptical.

Brown said the configuration provides a “happy compromise.” After businesses close, any excess residential cars, away during business hours, could utilize those spaces overnight, she said. 

Taylor Dowdy of the BSC Corp., handling civil engineering, said wetlands in the rear of the property have been flagged and the Conservation Commission is continuing its review. Most comments from the Department of Public Works were “technical in nature,” many relating to stormwater management.

“My main technical concern was harmonizing with potential future upgrades to Railroad Avenue,” Gittins said, and he was reassured to learn of discussions with the Department of Public Works.

Lloyd suggested that the developer “put up as many shade trees as possible,” including along the proposed wide Railroad Avenue sidewalk. Hagan asked about plans for the row of trees on the east boundary with South Road neighbors. Realistically the tree roots will be disrupted during construction, Dowdy said, so “the plan is to replant and have a robust landscaping plan.”

Larger trees will reach maturity faster, Dowdy said, and the development team will meet with the Arbor Resources Committee to review options. “Replanting would be an improvement,” Lloyd said. 

A nearby resident, Eleanor Hartley, commented that the trees provide a nice view, and she hopes they can be replaced with “as many shade trees as possible.” Hartley added, “I think this project is exciting.”

In answer to a question from Crowley, Brown said residential units will range in size from 550 square feet for a studio to 1,084 square feet for two-bedrooms.

Dillon addressed a question from resident Lee Vorderer. “We envision this building being very attractive to folks needing the Americans with Disabilities Act.” There will be some accessible units and parking space for people with disabilities, he said.  

“I like the concept of the plan and think it can be a real asset to the neighborhood,” said Bob Dorer, who lives nearby. He mentioned periodic drainage problems on Railroad Avenue and suggested the developer help mitigate them, “since you will be adding impervious surface.”

Dowdy pointed out that “the great majority of the site has been backfilled with gravel, so we are not adding as much impervious as you thought.” He added, “We’re mitigating everything we can with an underground system that will cover all the impervious, including roof surfaces.”

Resident Renu Bostwick urged the developer to avoid using fossil fuels. Resident Erin Sandler-Rathe called for installing charging stations for electric vehicles.

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