Letter to the Editor: Facts Show Multifamily Zoning By-law Change will Bring Gradual Growth  

Submitted by Erin Sandler-Rathe

Many people across the Commonwealth view the mandated MBTA zoning changes with fear: What if traffic gets worse? What if Bedford loses its small-town character? How can our schools and infrastructure handle any of this? All of these are valid concerns, but the best way to answer these questions is to look at facts rather than speculate.

So some facts: our 2019 housing study projected the population in Bedford to grow from 14,000 to just under 16,000 by 2030. The zoning changes before us would add about 1,500 new residents to Bedford if every unit gets built; that would take us to 15,500, right in line with projections. Our DPW, schools, Council on Aging, first responders, and other services have already been anticipating this growth for more than 5 years. Even if every unit were built and occupied by 2030, we have more than adequate time to adjust.

Realistically, though, development will occur much more slowly, especially with the parcels the Planning Board has identified. The largest single parcel in their maps is 4 acres, which can result in a maximum of 80 units. By contrast, the Woburn Sportsmen’s Club on Middlesex Turnpike, which many people have suggested as an alternative, occupies over 46 acres. The club owners aren’t interested in selling at the moment, but if they ever did, a developer could then by right put up almost 700 units there. The Stop and Shop plaza has also been mentioned as an alternative: that’s 25 acres where 400 units could be built. For slow, manageable changes, smaller parcels will clearly be easier to incorporate into our small town than large developments that could bring in 1000 new residents at once. 

Bedford is not going to change overnight. Our current population density is 1,037 residents per square mile. If and when we welcome 1,500 new residents to town, that will go to 1,145 residents per square mile. For comparison, even that increased density would put us well below our neighbors: Billerica (1,595), Burlington (2,220), Chelmsford (1,569), Lexington (2,101). We’re not in danger of becoming Somerville (19,671) or even Woburn (3,159) anytime soon.

Housing and traffic, like jobs, are regional issues requiring regional approaches. This effort is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make an impact. We cannot kick this down the road any further. Vote yes at Town Meeting.

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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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