Wednesday evening is expected to be a milestone in the town’s effort to construct a fire station at 139 The Great Road.
The Historic District Commission (HDC) has scheduled a public hearing on the town’s application for certificates of appropriateness to demolish the house at that location and build a fire station there.
Actually, two consecutive hearings have been posted for 7 p.m. in the Reed Room of Town Hall. The first is a continuation of a proposed Fletcher Road residence behind the parking lot at 60 The Great Road. The main event will follow.
The outcome of the hearing on the fire station is crucial to the future of the project. Since the site is within the Bedford Center Historic District, the five-member commission has regulatory authority over the exterior of buildings and grounds.
According to the state law enabling regulation of local historic districts, “The commission shall not make any recommendation or requirement except for the purpose of preventing developments incongruous to the historic aspects or the architectural characteristics of the surroundings and of the historic district.”
Asked about the timing of a ruling, HDC Chair Karen Kalil-Brown said, “I think there’s a high probability we will decide” before adjournment on Wednesday. State law allows up to 14 days for a historic district commission to decide on an application.
The Commission recognized its pivotal role even before Town Meeting approved the purchase of the site in March 2022. Six months later, the HDC formally encouraged the Select Board to include the HDC in progress reports leading up to completion of plans, the approach taken with the much smaller police station renovation.
Over several monthly meetings, the Fire Station Building Committee and the lead architect, Sean Schmigle of Kaestle, Boos Associates, have been part of HDC agendas, displaying drawings and renderings and responding to commission members’ concerns and suggestions.
Jeff Cohen, chair of the Building Committee, said over the weekend that Schmigle will lead the formal presentation at Wednesday’s public hearing.
“The team has met with them often so I don’t think there will be a lot of questions,” Cohen said, adding that the HDC “has been very responsive.”
Town officials hope that approval will clear the way for presentation of an article to finance construction on the March 25 Annual Town Meeting warrant. The architects may be ready to present the Building Committee with updated cost estimates this month.
One member of the HDC declared his preference to ultimately support the town’s plans as soon as the process began. Karl Winkler took the position that public safety should have the highest priority.
Other members of the commission are Alan Long, Sal Canciello, and Jennifer McClain. The HDC’s alternate member is Ali Hon-Anderson.
Select Board Chair Bopha Malone said on Tuesday, “The board has not officially discussed what the next step would be in the case of an HDC denial or appeal, as it may depend on several factors.”
She posed some of the questions that she said the board and Town Counsel would have to consider in case of a denial, including “if there were specific areas of concern. Could those be addressed through a redesign and reapplication? Will the HDC allow the town to withdraw without prejudice and allow for a redesign that would lead to an approval? Will the HDC articulate what changes, if any, could be made that would lead to an approval?”
Meanwhile, the most active opponent to the choice of location said by email late last week that “I would have to seriously consider an appeal” if the commission approves the certification.
Margaret Donovan, a Manhattan, NY resident who hasn’t lived in Bedford for about a half-century, has fought the plan for more than a year with a public relations campaign and an unsuccessful Town Meeting article. Donovan says she wants to preserve her mother’s vision of securing the streetscape’s historic character; longtime realtor Constance Donovan was a lead advocate of establishing the Bedford Center Historic District in 1964.
The statutory window to file an appeal in Middlesex Superior Court is within 45 days. When First Parish Unitarian Universalist appealed the HDC’s denial of rooftop solar panels in 2016, the process took more than two years until the court overruled the commission.