Ashby-Walsh, Roberts Condos Join Multi-Unit Zoning Agenda

January 22, 2024
The most recent potential zoning overlay map being discussed by the Bedford Planning Board to meet compliance with the state MBTA community requirements. Map:

Proposed zoning overlays to comply with a multi-unit housing law continue to evolve as the Bedford Planning Board reconvenes on Zoom at 7 p.m. on Tuesday for further discussion.

Deadline for compliance with the state requirement for at least 50 acres where multi-unit housing can be built by right is Dec. 31. So, the Planning Board is aiming for approval at Annual Town Meeting, which begins March 25.

For Bedford, the state mandate for the designated areas is a minimum of 15 units per acre without age restrictions. The law does not require that anything actually be built.

After months of exploring and fine-tuning options to meet not only the letter but also the spirit of the requirements, on Tuesday the Planning Board will consider two new areas introduced at the board’s meeting last week:

  • The horseshoe-shaped Walsh and Ashby roads, residential streets that begin separately at The Great Road and connect near Elm Brook, where a bridge – actually privately owned – connects to Wiggins Avenue.
  • The cul-de-sac at the end of Roberts Drive, land that is contiguous to a previously identified multi-unit district east of the Great Road Shopping Center. The condominiums were originally built as apartments around 1953.

The board has reached consensus on two other districts: the Loomis Street-Railroad Avenue corridor, and an area north of The Great Road between the Shawsheen River and Shawsheen Road, including all of Shawsheen Avenue.

But Planning Board Chair Chris Gittins said in an interview on Sunday that he is wavering on the Shawsheen area, since it is already zoned for mixed-use. “I would rather see how mixed-use areas are being developed – or not being developed – rather than adding an allowed use,” he explained, adding that not everyone on the board agrees with him. 

The Great Road Shopping Center is also in the mixed-use subdistrict, and that also was omitted from the multi-unit zoning. The state law does not count mixed-use potential toward fulfilling the requirements.

Gittins also pointed out that near the river north of The Great Road, “there is a very legitimate concern about the flood plain and how construction there would play out. Do we want to further incentivize construction of housing in the flood plain or would it be a better choice to include an uplands area?”

That would be the Ashby-Walsh neighborhood, and Gittins acknowledged that residents there may have concerns. “Wherever there has been discussion of including existing residential areas, there has been some pushback. I would feel more comfortable if we had come up with the concept a couple of months ago.” 

But he also noted that there have been residential property owners who have requested inclusion in the new districts.

He pointed out that Ashby and Walsh Roads are close to shopping and public transportation, and are “an area that has experienced a fair amount of turnover in recent years.” He added that the 80-unit Bedford Housing Authority complex on Ashby Place is not in the proposed district.

The board chair said it is unlikely that both Ashby-Walsh and Shawsheen will make the final cut.

Gittins said his rationale for including the Roberts Drive condominium complex was facilitating any plans to rebuild, which would be by right under the new zoning. Current density is 12 units per acre, he said. The boundaries exclude the single-family lots on Roberts Drive.

Specialists from RKG Associates, which provides economic planning and real estate consulting services, have compared the proposed Bedford districts with a state compliance model, Gittins said, and they are developing appropriate limits for minimum lot sizes, building setback and height limits, and parking provisions that will be part of the bylaw proposal. The consultancy services are covered by a state grant.

Gittins said the final version will be presented to the Select Board for inclusion on the annual town meeting warrant, which closes on Feb. 12. He said the board will conduct a mandatory public hearing on Feb. 13. Since the rezoning is intended to increase housing supply, only a simple town meeting majority is required for approval. Other zoning amendments require a minimum two-thirds approval.

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