Select Board Alleges HDC Disregarded Law in Ruling That Derailed Firehouse

Note: This is an updated version of a story that was posted earlier on Tuesday afternoon:

Bedford Town Manager Matt Hanson on Tuesday requested that the Historic District Commission “reconsider” its denial of its decision precluding the construction of a fire station because that vote “runs counter to the stipulations of HDC’s enabling act,” as well as “to the will of town voters.”

The memo, directed by the Select Board after meeting in executive session with the town counsel on Monday, cites three sections of the 1964 law that weren’t fulfilled:

  • The HDC should consider whether “failure to approve an application will involve a substantial hardship, financial or otherwise, to the applicant and whether such application may be approved without substantial detriment to the public.
  • If a request is denied, “the commission shall cause a notice of its determination…setting forth therein the reasons for its determination.”
  • Before issuing its disapproval, the HDC “may notify the applicant of its proposed action accompanied by recommendations of changes in the applicant’s proposal which, if made, would make the application acceptable to the commission.”
This is a side view of the current building at 139 The Great Road. Staff photo: Wayne Braverman

The memo requests that the commission “discuss and take action on this letter” at its next regular meeting, which will be in February.

Following a public hearing last Wednesday, the HDC voted 3-2 against granting a certificate of appropriateness needed to demolish the current building at 139 The Great Road and replace it with a fire station.

That vote for now ends a process that began more than two years ago with negotiations to acquire then site, which is in the Bedford Center Historic District and thus subject to HDC acceptance of the exterior appearance.

On Monday night, Select Board chair Bopha Malone, said the board will also file an appeal of the decision with Middlesex Superior Court within 20 days after receiving a formal letter of denial “to preserve our legal rights.”

According to the state enabling act creating the district, said Select Board member Emily Mitchell, the remedy for a denial is a court appeal. “That’s a legal action. It’s not necessarily a hostile act. It is resolving a situation between parties through a prescribed remedy.”

But she also noted that “my understanding is if the appeal is granted, the matter goes back to the HDC and does not supersede their authority.”

Hanson’s memo to the HDC stated that its decision “imposes not only a substantial financial hardship to the town, but more significantly, a clear disregard for the public welfare of all residents and non-residents that the Fire Department serves.”

Mitchell praised the work of the Fire Station Building Committee as well as the architect and project manager, noting that they tried to keep the HDC apprised over several months, altering the design based on feedback. After working in “good faith,” she said, “The statements by some members that they could never support a fire station on that site regardless of the design were unexpected. 

“The decision makes a lot of things harder,” she said, specifically hiring a fire chief. “How can we look a candidate in the eye and say we are going to make sure you have everything you need? Right now, that’s not true.”

She added that possible alternative uses for the current station for other municipal functions, as suggested in the recent space-needs assessment, are frozen.

Mitchell pointed out that typically, a denial of a certificate is accompanied by “advice or instructions” about changes that could “make it more likely to be approved. That didn’t happen here.”

Several residents who spoke or wrote to the Select Board about the HDC ruling cited what they felt was a flawed process.

The Select Board heard from a number of residents speaking or asking questions in person or over Zoom regarding last week’s HDC ruling. Image @BedfordTv

“When the HDC voted to deny, they gave neither a curative remedy nor provided any sort of clear explanation for their denial,” said Seth Cargiuolo.

HDC members “consistently raised issues outside their purview and [showed] a lack of good faith effort to collaborate,” said Dawn LaFrance-Linden. 

Matt Porter said it has been “really distressing that these unelected people could derail” the project. 

There were calls for the board to pursue available avenues. The decision, which she said was based on “nostalgia, cannot be left uncontested,” said Catherine Van Praagh. She added that the current station at 55 The Great Road is “a blight on the Historic District.”

Nick Howard urged the board to take immediate steps leading to realignment of the boundaries of the Historic District by a Town Meeting vote, thus excluding the HDC’s role.

Cargiuolo said changing the “shape, size, and scope” of the district would “preserve the integrity of the project and the active will of the voters.” 

Mark Bailey and John McClain called for taking “the necessary steps” for appellate action.

Several speakers pointed to the three Town Meeting votes over the past two years reflecting support for the project, all by a supermajority of at least 67 percent. 

“Clearly the voters of Bedford want it to happen,” said Cargiuolo.

“Through Town Meeting, the community has chosen again and again to put a fire station at 139 The Great Road,” said Erin Sandler-Rathe. 

Sandler-Rathe encouraged the board to appeal the decision. “Both historic preservation and public safety are public goods,” she said. Noting Town Meeting’s repeated support for construction, she said, “There’s no right or wrong here. It should be in the hand of the court.”

Not everyone spoke to support contesting the decision. Patricia Carluccio said it was “very disappointing” that the board wasn’t ready with an alternative site. 

Elizabeth McClung asked what the board’s plan is if litigation is unsuccessful.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Thomas Kenny
January 14, 2024 7:23 pm

I seem to remember a few years back when the First Parish Church, which is very expensive to upkeep, found a solution by renting the inside of the bell tower for installation of cell transmitters. They were not to be visible from anywhere outside but required the white wood louvers 70 feet in the air being replaced with a composite material that would not interfere with the signals and looked identical in appearance. Didn’t the HDC reject their proposal causing an expensive court battle that eventually ruled in favor of the Church? Wouldn’t it be cheaper if there was an arbitration process rather than an expensive court battle then and now with the Fire House issue that has been shown to not even be a Historic building? And if it does end up as a court battle, does the cost of both litigation teams get charged to the Bedford taxpayer?

Ted T. Martin
January 9, 2024 3:58 pm

The current building is not historic and it is as ugly as it is, yet The Fire Station would be worse; makes no sense to me, but that’s just me.

John McClain
January 10, 2024 9:48 am
Reply to  Ted T. Martin

The question is, if not 139 Great Road, where? Other options get floated in casual conversation, but in my experience, if you dig at all they fall apart pretty quickly.

Last edited 5 months ago by John McClain

All Stories

Have you ever given your father or a father figure around you a necktie for Father’s Day?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
  • Junior Landscaping
Go toTop