Key Hearing on Wednesday Will Determine Fire Station Prospects

The Historic District Commission has scheduled a public hearing on topics that may effect the construction of a new fire station at 139 The Great Road. Map of The Historic District: https://bedfordma.gov

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. 

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Marc
January 2, 2024 10:07 pm

Just wanted to note that the original application filed with the State back in 1967 contains this blurb to begin Section 7 Description at the top of the second page (emphasis mine):

The Bedford Center Historic District, located in the town of Bedford, includes 56k acres. The district is situated in the geographic and traditional community center of town. It is comprised of 100 commercial, religious, cultural and civic structures dating from 1710. There are 19 modern intrusions, most of which blend well with the earlier architecture. 

Check it out yourself:

  1. Go to the Massachusetts Historical Commission at https://mhc-macris.net/
  2. Search for MHC-ID BED.C . (Note that it’s all capital letters.)
  3. Download the National Register Nomination Form. It appears as a red “NR” PDF.

If it was ok back then for the district to have modern components when the district was established, there shouldn’t be a problem today.

January 3, 2024 12:28 pm
Reply to  Marc

There is no correlation with structures that pre-existed the Historic District and the massive, industrial structure that is being proposed. And there is certainly no way to blend the concrete apron into the neighborhood. It would be a completely unforced error in judgment and respect for the law.

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