Bedford Residents to Decide on 28 Articles at Monday’s Annual Town Meeting

March 21, 2024
The 2024 Annual Town Meeting takes place at the Bedford High School Auditorium this Monday, March 25, starting at 6:30 p.m. Staff photo by Wayne Braverman

The 2024 Annual Town Meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in Bedford High School’s Buckley Auditorium. 

If the 28-article warrant isn’t completed Monday, Town Meeting will reconvene at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Rules that voters are asked to approve at the start of Town Meeting include prohibiting presentation of new articles after 10:15 p.m. But that can be waived by a subsequent vote.

One way this Town Meeting can be described is by what’s missing. The long-awaited bond proposal to pay for construction of a fire station has been postponed to a Special Town Meeting, expected on June 10, allowing more time to refine cost estimates.

So, Article 11 is now generating the most interest. It would amend the zoning bylaw with an overlay district that would allow multi-unit housing by right with a minimum density of 15 units per acre and no age restrictions. The law requires Bedford to designate at least 50 acres.

The proposal, crafted over several months by the Planning Board in response to a state law, identifies two areas for the overlay. One incorporates Roberts Drive, two adjacent properties east of that street on The Great Road, and Alfred Circle. The other is more complicated: Commercial Avenue, Railroad Avenue east to South Road, a few properties on South Road, the south side of Loomis Street, and 200 and 214 The Great Road.

Deadline for compliance is Dec. 31. Penalties for failure to comply with the statute include loss of eligibility for a number of state grant programs. 

Although there is no organized opposition, which has influenced votes in a few metropolitan towns, issues with the proposal have been raised, especially on social media platforms.

Resident Nicholas Howard, who attended most of the multi-hour Planning Board sessions, said he is considering an amendment from Town Meeting floor that would change the boundaries, eliminating two parcels that he fears are positioned to be poised for significant new housing. Howard acknowledged that amendments to zoning bylaw amendments are allowed only if they do not make the bylaw more restrictive.

Article 12 is a modified zoning map that requires approval if its predecessor passes. Since the amendments are designed to facilitate expanded housing inventory, they require only a simple majority for approval.

Also expected to generate turnout is a component of Article 9 – the omnibus article for capital projects – proposing a $1.13 million bond to finance the replacement of the synthetic turf at BHS’s Sabourin Field. The surface, installed in the summer of 2013, has about a year remaining before age and deterioration will necessitate closing it, a consultant has recommended.

School and Recreation Department officials advocate replacement because the facility is central to programming. They say the number and condition of the town’s remaining grass fields are not nearly sufficient to accommodate demand. Youth sports organizations are trying to mobilize parents to attend to ensure that the two-thirds threshold for bonding is realized.

Opposition to the expenditure centers on health and environmental concerns.

A companion proposal is for $840,000 to upgrade the running track that surrounds the turf. That expense would be covered by community preservation funds, which cannot legally be used to finance purchase and installation of synthetic turf.

The track is the largest new expense among almost $3 million in the community preservation article. The lineup includes $871,000 in principal and interest payments for past bonded projects. Other new proposals include about $250,000 for resurfacing the children’s playground in the town campus to comply with accessibility standards, and $350,000 to develop and design refurbishing of the Town Common.

Article 14 comprises the fiscal 2025 proposed operating budgets that reflect an overall increase over the current fiscal year of about 3.8 percent. The education and municipal budgets both exceed the Finance Committee’s 3.5 percent growth guideline. The school budget has drawn particular attention because of ongoing contract negotiations between the School Committee and two educators’ bargaining units. Their contracts expire on June 30. 

Among the remaining articles are two that would create new stabilization funds. Article 19 proposes a fund that would receive allocations for the eventual reconditioning or replacement of Shawsheen Valley Technical High School. Article 20 proposes a fund to cover unbudgeted out-of-district special-education tuition expenses.

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