Bedford Historic District Commission Favors New Fire Station with Conditional Vote

February 22, 2024

The Bedford Historic District Commission on Wednesday reversed its decision from seven weeks ago and approved granting certificates of appropriateness for demolishing the building at 139 The Great Road and constructing a fire station on the site.

The vote was 3-2, with Sal Canciello again the swing vote. Karl Winkler and Jennifer McClain maintained their support and Karen Kalil-Brown and Alan Long their opposition.

The decision can be appealed to Superior Court within 20 days of the written filing of the commission’s decision.

The reconsideration followed an informal presentation of design changes earlier this month. The most significant was replacement of a driveway on the west side of the site with a sloping lawn, not only reducing the size of a retaining wall, but also saving some trees on the adjacent lot.

There were a number of conditions attached to the motion, most of them suggested by Town Manager Matt Hanson.

The town needs to return to the HDC for approval of design features such as color, fencing and lighting styles, signage, and other features. Image: BedfordTV

Demolition is not allowed until the town secures funding approval, complies with all permitting, and has a signed agreement with a contractor. The town needs to return to the commission for approval of design features such as color, fencing and lighting styles, signage, and other features.

Also, the approval requires that “to the extent possible, stone from the existing stone wall along the property frontage will be salvaged and reused when constructing the new wall along the apron.” 

The commission will also address the exterior appearance of a planned rear storage building. There is a “strong preference” that the concrete apron in front of the current fire station be reclaimed as green space, as well. The town furthermore has to continue upkeep of the property at 55 The Great Road– a condition suggested by Canciello before the vote.

Also stipulated were references to the historic district’s 1964 enabling act about denial causing “hardship” and approval to enhance the “public welfare,” which Hanson said precludes the decision from being cited as a precedent.

Besides the driveway replacement, other design changes were relocating the ambulance bay from the west side to the front (which Fire Department Capt. Mark Sullivan said is an improvement), relocating the training tower to the rear, adding stamped concrete to the front of the apron, replacing fencing with shrubbery in the west boundary, and extended use of clapboard on the side of the building.

Todd Costa, a principal with Kaestle Boos Associates, presented the revisions, including several renderings, as well as detailed architectural features – shingles, window styles, trim, entrance frames, brackets.

Almost all of the follow-up questions were from Kalil-Brown, who asked about whether soil borings would change the visible architecture, aspects of fencing, construction materials for the outbuilding, and others. But when it came to a vote, she explained, “I still struggle with tearing a building down in the Historic District. It’s history repeating itself and I struggle with that.” Apparently, she was referring to a demolition of a historic building more than 70 years ago to make room for the current fire station.

Canciello only made one comment, but it indicated his sympathetic reaction to the amended design. He said the roof form in the front of the building and adjacent ambulance bay “might have some tweaking with our input.”

Long, who attended the meeting via remote participation, asked only about the legality of the height of the training tower. Planning Board member Amy Lloyd said from the audience that the 49-foot tower is within the zoning for the street, and municipal buildings are exempt anyway.

“I have a sense it’s going to be the tallest non-church structure in town,” said Long. 

HDC Chair Kalil-Brown invited public comments, most of which were in support of the fire station site. 

Two speakers, Anne Bickford and Donald Corey, repeated warnings about the delays that could result from underground and above-ground utilities in front of the site. 

“I strongly suggest that no demolition take place until it’s very clear what the utilities timetable is,” Bickford said, and Hanson offered to add that as a non-binding condition to the approval. 

Corey, who has repeated this issue for well over a year, declared, “It’s quite possible that five or six years from now there are still going to be wires which will render the site still unusable for the fire station and no commitment from utilities.”

Image: BedfordTV

But Karina Pena of PMA Consultants, the owner’s project manager, reported that “we have been meeting with Eversource and Verizon and we have three work orders right now with Eversource, one of which has already been completed, the others by April 17 and May. We expect it to be ready when we start construction. We have been meeting with them on a monthly basis.”

The commission also read several letters of support for the location from residents at the start of the meeting. William Moonan, a former commission member who resides contiguous to the south side of the site, read a letter from former resident Margaret Donovan repeating her opposition.

Kalil-Brown, noting that there are more building details to be adjudicated, mused, “Part of me says, ‘Why do we have to vote tonight?’” Hanson replied that the deliberations have reached a point where the remaining details are unlikely to be game-changing. “We’re at the point where we need to know,” he said. 

After the vote, Hanson acknowledged that it wasn’t unanimous, but thanked all the members for their feedback. “We really appreciate your partnership,” he said.

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