Select Board Favors Proposal for Senior Housing Closer to North Road

October 13, 2023
The Bedford Select Board approved Brian DeVellis’ relocation of a proposed 55+ apartment building in the area behind Northside Convenience as part of his plans to develop a LIP housing complex off Carlisle Road. Assessors Map: www.bedfordma.gov

The Bedford Select Board this week approved a modification to a proposed multi-level housing proposal that relocates a 51-unit apartment complex for older residents to a parcel near the junction of Carlisle and North roads.

The update, part of a Local Initiative Project (LIP) endorsed by the board in June, will be forwarded to the state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, which under state law has to sign off on the proposal’s financial feasibility. A comprehensive permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals is the final step.

Tuesday’s decision was complicated by the recusal of two board members from the issue: Paul Mortenson, whose property off North Road abuts the rear of the site, and Bopha Malone, whose residence is a few hundred yards west on Carlisle Road.

That meant unanimity was required on any vote among the remaining three Select Board members, and one of them, Emily Mitchell, was critical of several aspects of the plan, although, ultimately, she cast an affirmative vote, joining Shawn Hanegan and Margot Fleischman. The changes include a provision that the new apartments be limited to residents at least age 55; otherwise, the plan reverts to the Select Board.

The discussion is the latest chapter in the proposal by the local landscape architect and attorney Brian DeVellis for a neighborhood of single-family houses, duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, and a three-story apartment building on about 35 acres on the north side of Carlisle Road, a little east of the town compost center across the street. 

DeVellis offered the project as a LIP because, under state law, it can bypass zoning density requirements as long as at least 25 percent of the units meet the state definition of affordable housing. A LIP requires endorsement by the Housing Partnership and Select Board.

When the Select Board signed on to the LIP at a meeting in June, they added some conditions, including ways to reduce the density of the development. That was one of the concerns among neighbors objecting to the magnitude of the plan.

The three-story apartment building was one of two DeVellis proposed for the site, and he returned with a plan to relocate it on a 14-acre separate parcel he owns to the east, behind Northside Convenience. DeVellis’s original proposal was to feature a “co-housing” project on the smaller site, but the concept was questioned by the state agency and withdrawn.

The revised iteration features 10 single-family houses along Carlisle Road, 12 triplexes on the perimeter road, eight duplexes in the interior, 16 townhouses on the north boundary, and the three-story building with 42 apartments. That totals 120 housing units – 19 fewer than the plan approved in June.

DeVellis repeated his pitch that his proposal is a response to the 2019 Bedford housing study indicating a demand for a range of housing options, particularly for the “missing middle.” That includes residents who are downsizing or who want to “age in place.” Hanegan noted, “I personally know people who have left because they have been priced out.”

Other Select Board recommendations were also implemented: additional homeownership opportunities – rentals were cut to 20 percent – and additional townhouses. When these were first discussed in July, there wasn’t consensus, and the differences continued at Tuesday’s discussion.

Fleischman said that even with the new alignment, the project is “multigenerational.” She said the “walkability” inherent in the smaller site “really does promote a kind of lifestyle that’s very challenging to find elsewhere in the community,” where some elderly residents “depend on other people just to get out of their driveways.” This residential option would give residents the chance “to go out onto the sidewalk and get some milk.”

Fleischman added that the Zoning Board should consider “a lower parking ratio. It’s much more realistic that an elderly couple might need only one car, which might alleviate some concerns about traffic.”

But Mitchell said that the new separated layout is “less integrated as a multigenerational community, which is what appealed to me.” The amended project is “different from what I was OK with in June. You’re building a whole new thing.” 

Fleischman said she perceives “a considerable qualitative difference between the two sites.”

Mitchell also cited a negative impact on the four existing houses on Carlisle Road between the two parcels, as well as the challenge of crossing North Road to the medical building. 

“That intersection is going to be redesigned with this project,” DeVellis predicted.

Indeed, said Hanegan, the housing could “anchor a transformation” of the North Road overlay district. 

Fleischman pointed out that the relocated senior housing was in response to concerns from neighbors as well as Select Board preferences for more ownership options. Mitchell’s view was, “I don’t see the east parcel as a response to concerns. We just picked it up and moved it down the street.”

Fleischman also predicted that the land behind the convenience store will eventually be developed, perhaps as senior housing. Mitchell called that assumption “the overarching threat.” But Fleischman said that as a Planning Board member, she often included potential alternative uses as “the relative risk-reward” for a proposal.

Hanegan asked DeVellis about the prospects for the site. He said more than 50 percent of the area is wetland; because of that there is no access to North Road. But there could be four large single-family residences or a planned residential development.

Fleischman also suggested that the planned apartment complex will be a better environmental choice, preserving more of the existing trees and “a lot of what people have gotten used to in that area. This is relatively discreet.”

“I just want to be careful how people will experience this,” Mitchell said. “I think we are stuck trying to make decisions with a lot of unknowns. I don’t want to be making decisions based on what sounds like a nice thing to say.” 

Hanegan was enthusiastic. “There is a lot to like in the update because it does address neighbors’ concerns and some of my own beliefs about more ownership opportunities. My thought is we’d lose something if we went back.”

Other issues addressed included:

  • Traffic. DeVellis acknowledged that there is a backup problem on Carlisle Road but “we are not going to add substantially to it.” He emphasized that his company will join town departments in designing and financing improvements at bottlenecks such as around Willson Park that could relieve congestion. “We will work with the town in terms of mitigation efforts; that’s all part of the process,” he said, adding that the Board of Appeals “will ultimately decide what the street can handle.” 
  • Drainage. “This doesn’t impact wetlands at all,” DeVellis said, noting features such as “open and subsurface drainage” and “the most progressive wetland resource enhancement. We are not going to raise everyone’s water table because you can’t do that,” he said. “We will design according to Massachusetts DEP standards and Bedford bylaws.” 
  • Visual impact. “We will do our best to preserve trees,” DeVellis said, and add screening. “That will all be part of the process for the ZBA.” 
  • Sidewalks. DeVellis said plans call for a sidewalk along the north side of Carlisle Road from North Road to the western extremity of the land. There also will be parking for a town trailhead on the western parcel, he said. 

There was concern about the Executive Office of Housing approving a plan that featured units restricted to older residents since a goal of the LIP is to increase housing options for families. Jeff King, the town’s Director of Housing and Economic Development, noted that some “communities use senior housing as a way to shut out multi-bedroom affordable housing. In this particular case, because we have substantial affordable housing and more than one or two bedrooms, we are not using this as a way to restrict ‘missing middle’ families. If you can show that this is not an effort to restrict, then there is a path to creating the deed restriction for seniors.”

DeVellis said if the project gets the go-ahead from the state, he expects he will need about six months of preparation before presenting to the ZBA.

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