Decision time at the HDC: For the public interest or the public welfare?

Submitted by Matt Porter

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Historic District Commission, members drew a line on how they view their role as arbiters of the historic district. The debate centered around a single section of the original 1964 Act.

In one part, the HDC has the ability to stop the demolition of a building or structure if it has historic significance and would be “detrimental to the public interest.” 

Then, a few lines down, the section also reads that an exemption can be made if it involves substantial hardship to the applicant and whether the “application may be approved without substantial detriment to the public welfare.”

Public interest or public welfare? That is where the HDC will have to draw its line when it examines the redesign of the new fire station proposed for 139 The Great Road.

Some members made it clear that having a new up-to-date station big enough to cover the town trumps concerns about the buildings size and look detracting from the district.

Others made it clear that they felt their role was about preservation of the district’s historic character above all else.

“If we don’t defend the historic district, who will?” asked committee member Alan Long. “Public safety doesn’t enter into our decision.”

Town manager Matthew Hanson made it clear in his appeal to the commission that the town was devoted to making possible changes to make the fire station more visually palatable, but obviously, the size and scale of the building was not something they could change without giving up critical needs for the fire station.

I understand that this must be one of the most challenging cases the HDC has had to consider. I hope that the commission will look at the sincere effort of the town to meet them halfway or more on their concerns about green space, preserving the historic wall, and moving the training tower further back from The Great Road.

I believe member Jennifer McClain said it best: “Perfection is the enemy of the good enough. We need a new fire station.”

Preserving the public interest seems quaint if we can’t protect the public welfare of all our citizens. I urge the commission to seriously consider the redesign and find a way to a yes vote.

Otherwise, it will take an expensive and time-consuming appeal to the Middlesex Superior Court to make a final determination: Public interest or Public Welfare?

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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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