Letter to the Editor: Multifamily Housing Supports Smart Growth 

Submitted by Karen Willson (A member of Mothers Out Front)

I’m committed to creating a livable climate for all children and equitable communities where everyone can thrive. That’s why I support multifamily zoning in Bedford. 

The state has made it clear: we must approve the MBTA Communities Multifamily Zoning warrant article. Not passing it would make Bedford ineligible for grants from the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, and for MassWorks infrastructure funding. Noncompliance with state law would affect funding decisions for thirteen additional state programs and could lead to civil enforcement action and risk liability under fair housing laws. 

Many of the big problems we face today were created or exacerbated by decades-old exclusionary zoning laws. Single-family zoning has contributed to economic and racial segregation; resulted in suburban sprawl that turned pristine forested ecosystems and farmland into subdivisions; resulted in highways choked by commuters “driving till they qualify” for mortgages to and from work, spewing climate-wrecking emissions from their tailpipes; and caused a housing shortage with skyrocketing housing costs that threatens our state economy.

In recent years, Bedford started to right these zoning wrongs by passing warrant articles to allow Accessory Dwelling Units and two-family dwellings by right. Now it’s time to adopt multifamily zoning and embrace the principles of smart growth.

To do our part addressing the housing shortage and climate crisis, Bedford needs to add more housing options and greater housing density. Increased density in walkable neighborhoods near shops and schools and close to jobs is key to reducing the need for car trips. This reduces vehicle emissions, which is crucial from a climate perspective. Many people prefer living near amenities in walkable neighborhoods for the sense of community.

I’m grateful for the Planning Board’s hard work over the last year to create a plan for Bedford to comply with state law. They have given residents many opportunities to ask questions and give input through a focus group and public forums. During its weekly meetings, the Planning Board engages in dialogue with residents to address their concerns. 

Multifamily zoning is a climate imperative. Let’s focus on what we stand to gain regionally and globally. Plan to attend the Annual Town Meeting on March 25th (and return on March 26th if necessary). Let’s vote to pass the MBTA Communities Multifamily Zoning warrant article so that future generations will inherit adequate housing, a thriving economy, and a livable climate.

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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January 30, 2024 3:51 pm

While the warrant articles allowing for Accessory Units and Two-Family Dwellings have already passed, I don’t see a rush for such building projects in town. Passing this MBTA Communities Act would not necessarily result in a rush of new building projects either – it merely allows for the option when development is considered. The traffic in Bedford stinks – there’s no doubt. But that issue needs to be addressed regardless of this MBTA Communities Act. Development will continue in the communities around Bedford that already send hundreds of vehicles through town daily. As commercial properties continue to grow in town, why not cluster homes for people to live, shop AND work in the area without jumping in line on The Great Road at 7:30 AM to get to their destination.

Denser housing areas would allow for inevitable growth, while also preserving our shared spaces. We need to continue to protect and preserve as much open green space as possible. These natural spaces bring value and wellness to all of our community members and help minimize the impact of weather events, which continue to cost residents and the town more and more to recover from and respond to.

Tom Kenny
January 29, 2024 7:37 pm

Could we see the data to support the assertions that adding multifamily housing to Bedford will 1) directly benefit the climate, 2) make the town more vibrant, and 3) not add to the traffic?

Renu Bostwick
January 26, 2024 7:39 pm

The slow growth that comes from zoning changes will help the regional housing crunch, while also allowing our Town services (like schools) to adjust easily. Traffic in Bedford is caused mostly by regional cut-through traffic of commuters who have to drive long distances, so having people who live closer to where they work will reduce congestion across the region which only helps Bedford traffic. Thank you, Karen, for pointing out the very real monetary risks to our well-run Town if we don’t comply with the MBTA zoning state law! Our Planning Board has been doing a fabulous job weighing all options and helping us achieve the smart growth necessary for the future! Thank you, Planning Board!

Tom Kenny
January 24, 2024 6:45 pm

There are plenty of us still here in town – voiceless, to be sure, but still here nonetheless – who recognize that this is faulty logic. Adding buildings to jam more people into an already crowded town, thus creating even more traffic, does nothing to improve the lives of existing homeowners. It certainly falls in line with the abstract benefits favored by some – equity, climate, and so on – but adding more driving time, further taxing the schools, and creating more blight certainly doesn’t make the town more livable.

loretta stacchi
January 28, 2024 9:26 am
Reply to  Tom Kenny

Well said. Traffic is traffic no matter where it comes from. We already have to much in town.

Sue Swanson
January 22, 2024 8:26 pm

I am also grateful to the Planning Board for all their hard and thoughtful work. Karen Willson has laid out the advantages of these zoning changes — the financial benefits and the social ones. Vibrant communities include a range of people living in a variety of homes. Building on our recent adjustments to zoning, this new adjustment will allow us to welcome an even greater mix of ages and incomes to share this beautiful town we call home.

Marilou Barsam
January 28, 2024 11:50 am
Reply to  Sue Swanson

As a senior citizen, recognizing that Bedford offers few options for a 25 year homeowner like me to downsize to, I wholeheartedly welcome affordable multi-family zoning that would open up some opportunities for those of us who would like to stay in Bedford and for those who would want to move here but can not afford it . I also don’t see why other towns like Lexington have figured out how to use available land to diversify their housing stock but we seem to question the advantages in doing so. And I don’t see how housing adjacent to public transportation would add more congestion. Hopefully it will alleviate it . Thank you planning board for envisioning a solution that fits in with available land lots, easy access transportation, and satisfies our compliance to the MBTA zoning requirements .

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