Chris Gittins: Planning Board

March 5, 2024
Chris Gittins is candidate for re-election to Bedford Planning Board.

Chris Gittins, along with fellow Bedford Planning Board members, has invested literally hundreds of hours thinking and talking about how the town can best comply with a state law requiring acreage zoned for multi-unit housing by right.

But there are also other priorities on the board’s agenda, and as Gittins heads for his second term, he hopes Town Meeting approval of the housing overlays will clear the path for other topics.

“We have a warrant article requesting $200,000 to cover the cost of consultants” to help construct the revised comprehensive plan. That’s about nine months of “professional expertise that we really need in order to get it done over a one- to- two-year time frame,” he said. “If it’s all on the volunteer board members and professional staff, we will be really challenged.”

The comprehensive plan, Gittins asserted, is “tremendously important, a road map for the next decade.” 

Since community involvement is a prerequisite, “there are hundreds of people from town who participate. Our board looks to it to set up priorities.”

Most of the topics from the 2023 plan have been addressed, Gittins said, although “some issues, such as housing, remain a continuing concern. Affordability was raised in the 2002 plan. This is really a good time to engage, as housing has really percolated to the top of the concerns list.”

As chair of the Planning Board, Gittins drove the agenda for the board’s work on the plan for compliance with the state law that affected 177 cities and towns served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The law requires Bedford to designate at least 50 acres with a minimum density of 15 housing units per acre and no age restrictions. Gittins presided over practical and philosophical differences, with the board ultimately reaching consensus.

The law, he observed, “doesn’t come across that there was a lot of thought put into how to use this in the suburbs rather than in more urban areas.” That’s why Bedford’s 132 acres of mixed-use zoning is not eligible for automatic inclusion in the multi-use overlay, he said. “We have big retail strips; we don’t have small lots near public transportation.”

Still, “I feel pretty good about what we are recommending,” Gittins said. “To create a district where multi-family housing is allowed by right – that’s a pretty big deal.”

During the past two years, he pointed out, the town has approved zoning changes that expand housing options, allowing conversions to two-family residences and accessory dwelling units. “We are taking modest steps in a constructive direction,” Gittins said. “We are going to take a long time for those changes to play out in terms of housing that is more accessible to more people.”

There’s another significant subject on the Planning Board’s radar.

“A couple of years ago, we hired a consultant to organize the zoning bylaw so it’s easier to find things,” Gittins said. “I’m optimistic that we will have a bylaw reorganization proposal for fall Town Meeting.

The revisions will primarily be organizational, he said, which can “set us up for making substantive changes to the content.”

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