Board Approves Permit for Railroad Avenue Mixed-Use Proposal

August 24, 2023
A rendering of the proposed mixed-use project on Railroad Avenue. HDS Architecture

The Bedford Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a special permit allowing construction of a 9,500-square-foot residential and commercial building on a vacant acre at 1 Railroad Ave.

The proposal by residents Matthew and Lizzie Dillon features 18 apartments on the second and third floors, and two first-floor storefronts and 17 parking spaces on the ground floor. The plans also include an 1,800-square-foot retail building next to a small park.   

Several conditions were attached to the approval, all of which are expected to be met. There is a 20-day appeal period after the permit has been filed with the town clerk. The special permit is required under the Depot Area Mixed Use Overlay District.

Board members were enthusiastic about the plan. 

“I like the project. It’s a nice addition to that section of town,” said Chair Chris Gittins. 

“I think this is a great addition,” said Steve Hagan.

The board heard from the developer’s representatives on concerns expressed by the Department of Public Works, and members were satisfied with the responses.

Part of a proposed sidewalk and street parking along the Railroad Avenue side is on the site, and the Dillons plan to donate those portions to the town as easements. They may also need to replace a drainage pipe on the parcel.

The Bedford Fire Department asked the developer to address utility wires along Railroad Avenue that could exacerbate emergency evacuations. Fire officials also preferred 360-degree access to the structure for their apparatus. 

A 9,500-square-foot residential and retail complex has been proposed for a parcel at 1 Railroad Ave. Staff photo by Wayne Braverman

At the hearing, Felix Zemel, a fire code consultant who said he wrote and interpreted parts of the state fire code, said the plan exceeds code requirements. Regarding the overhead wires, he said, “Fire services have ways around it when using aerial equipment if wires are in the way. They can use “ground ladders with ventilation cuts,” or “get a correct operational angle from the other side of Railroad Avenue.

“Firefighters have developed a whole suite of strategies to work around wires while waiting for power companies to disconnect them,” he added.

The Bedford Fire Department “may not have run into this scenario as much as other locations, where it is more common for buildings and wires to be closer together,” said Planning Director Tony Fields. 

“I understand our fire department’s concerns,” Gittins said. “My takeaway is there wasn’t anything there that’s a deal-breaker. These were preferences, not requirements.” In answer to a question from member Amy Lloyd, it was noted that the building will be outfitted with a sprinkler system.

The developer also spent time on a landscape plan for the east end of the property, bordering a town-owned green space at the corner of Railroad Avenue and South Road. 

The current bus shelter, bench, and Garden Club display will not change, said Attorney Pamela Brown. The developer wants to remove three large trees alongside invasives and other overgrowth on the property line, she said. The tree warden will schedule a required public hearing.

“It’s a nice green wall, but when you look closely, there’s nothing special here,” said Brown. 

There are plans to replace the trees. Gittins agreed: “It’s green, but there’s not a lot to redeem that.”

The only opposition to the overall plan came by email from a nearby resident who said the proposal is oversized and “would overwhelm this crossroad.”

She also suggested that new retail space is redundant when there are empty storefronts elsewhere in town. Brown said the business component is “doing what your zoning was intended to do,” resulting in “a village center.” 

Matthew Dillon added that “we are committed to some sort of food service establishment there,” and have already had serious inquiries from two prospects. “That was one of the things that excited us – bringing some life to that corner,” said Dillon, who lives not far away on the other side of John Glenn Middle School.

Hagan, who chairs the Conservation Commission, said that panel approved orders of conditions, to be executed before construction begins. Part of the northwest area of the lot is within 50- and 100-foot buffer zones bordering wetlands vegetation.

“We do need town permission through Select Board as highway commissioners and tree commissioners discuss work on town land,” said Brown. 

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John McClain
August 24, 2023 6:26 pm

It will be great to have a sidewalk and street trees on this section of Railroad Ave. Walking by this lot is pretty grim now.

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