The petitioners’ article on Monday’s Special Town Meeting warrant is not legally binding, according to Bedford’s Town Counsel.
“If the article passes as written, or with amendments, it will act as a non-binding referendum, essentially expressing the sentiment of Town Meeting,” Town Manager Matt Hanson explained in an email interview on Monday.
The petitioners’ article is seventh on the warrant, titled “Citizens’ Petition – Alternative Location for Fire Station.” It was engineered by Margaret Donovan, a former resident and a leading opponent of the location for construction of a fire station because of its impact on the Bedford Center Historic District.
Article 7 “authorizes and directs” the Select Board “to explore all options for a new fire station within the previously identified response time circle, other than 139 The Great Road.” The text specifies that the review include the current station at 55 The Great Road.
The text of the article also “directs” the Select Board to “present a comprehensive plan to the 2024 Annual Town Meeting on the costs and requirements for delivering a new station by the end of calendar year 2025.”
Hanson explained that “Town Counsel has advised that Town Meeting can’t ‘direct’ the Select Board to take the actions listed in the article.”
In commentary supplied by the sponsors, they explain that the article “would provide a path to a viable alternative location in the event that the Historic District Commission” decides not to grant a demolition permit for the structure currently on the site. Demolition is dependent on the commission’s acceptance of the firehouse design.
Since 139 The Great Road is within the Historic District, the commission is the arbiter of any exterior changes visible from the street. The Fire Station Building Committee has been providing regular updates to the HDC on design progress; the next session is scheduled for Wednesday.
The petitioners’ article was filed at the deadline for closing the Special Town Meeting warrant. Its emergence directly followed some public reservations about the site expressed by the firefighters’ union.
Its call for a firehouse site evaluation duplicates a survey of about five years ago when seven possible locations were identified along The Great Road between Willson Park and Loomis Street. Town officials did not consider possibilities outside that envelope in an effort to balance response times by emergency vehicles to the town’s extremities.
That survey did not consider the current station as an option, not only because of the small size of the lot but also the lack of a temporary fire station site during construction.
Of the seven possible locations identified, the first choice was 175 The Great Road, the address of a TD Bank branch and connected office building. Purchase of that property, which would have been by eminent domain, was scheduled to come up for a vote at the 2020 Annual Town Meeting.
But that Town Meeting was postponed by several months in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. When the session finally convened outdoors in July, the warrant was limited to operational essentials because of the exigencies of the pandemic.
The following year, Utah State University decided to sell its property at 139 The Great Road, which was among the seven potential sites identified earlier. Town Meeting in 2022 narrowly approved purchase of the property, saving the town an estimated $6 million from the earlier choice.
The petitioners’ article also directs the Select Board to:
- “Advertise for proposals to determine what interest there is in selling property within the response time circle;”
- “Work with the Fire Station Building Committee, PMA Consultants, and Kaestle Boos Associates to assess any and all options” from the site study. PMA is the owner’s project manager and Kaestle Boos is the architect under contract to work specifically on a proposal for 139 The Great Road.