Letter to the Editor: Recommendation for a Second Look at Multifamily Housing Options

Submitted by Paul Mortenson

Voters at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting will be asked to approve the Planning Board’s proposals to satisfy the state multifamily zoning mandate. Town Meeting voters should reject the proposals and ask town officials for a Special Town Meeting with proposals that not only comply with state law, but also mitigate the impact to Great Road traffic AND require developers to build quality housing.  

To be clear, Bedford should comply with the law. But Bedford is under no compulsion to permit multifamily housing by right on and near the busiest road in town. There are perfectly acceptable alternatives that would comply with the law, are consistent with the common good, and minimize the most obvious negative impact, namely, increased traffic on the already congested Great Road.

We have been told “don’t worry,” these are only zoning changes, they do not mandate anything be built. True, but proponents, as is their right, clearly want the units built and have crafted their proposals to make development more likely. They maintain that Bedford must do its part to ameliorate the state’s housing crisis, and their proposals manifest this belief.  

Furthermore, the proposed zoning makes it likely that the multifamily units will be built sooner rather than later. The proposed zones are more ripe for development compared to other possible locations. Also, the proposed zoning makes it cheaper/easier for developers to build. For example, there are no required minimum number of parking spots and fewer elevators are required than under current zoning. 

The lack of required parking is a recipe for misery. Good luck to our newest residents finding a parking spot. As a result, I predict we will next be asked to approve overnight on-street parking. Is that the end of the world? No, but I doubt many in Bedford want that on their street and the potential for unintended consequences relating to snow plowing, trash removal, and school bus transportation.  

Easing the number of elevators required will decrease the quality of life for our new residents stuck waiting for too busy elevators, especially for those whom the stairs are impossible. Voters should not allow expediency for developers to trump the needs of our someday new residents.   

I recommend voting against the proposed zoning at Annual Town Meeting. Ask for a Special Town Meeting to approve zoning that doesn’t clearly worsen traffic on the Great Road and lead to rushed, lower quality housing.

Paul Mortenson is a member of the Select Board. This letter reflects his opinion, not that of the Board.

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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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John McClain
March 10, 2024 9:29 pm

Bedford needs more varied housing. Current zoning causes pretty much any house less than $700K to be torn down and replaced with a $1.5M to $2M house. There is nothing wrong with these houses, but they aren’t a good fit for those just starting out in life, or for those looking to downsize. We won’t have a healthy town if that is all we have.

Rezoning Middlesex Turnpike won’t help this problem. The Planing Board’s proposal can at least start to make it better.

As for traffic the only way putting more people Middlesex Turnpike won’t impact traffic is those people also don’t actually become part of the town’s fabric. Don’t participate in actives in the town center. Don’t shop in the town’s stores. People keep on compiling about all the empty store fronts in town. Increasing the population on Middlesex Turnpike will not help fix that. Putting people in the center of town within walking distance of all our commercial districts can.

Molly L Haskell
March 12, 2024 2:05 pm
Reply to  John McClain

This zoning law ignores the overwhelming market forces that impel developers to build massive homes, and does nothing to solve it. At best, we can expect a single family house to be replaced with a 3.5 story 8k sf duplex. This can hardly be seen as a meaningful solution to our housing crisis. Nor can it be seen as anything but a massive carbon cost. I am dismayed that the law gives us no levers to compel construction of means tested homes.  

In my travels around Greater Boston, I have yet to see how density fills storefronts-anywhere. As an example, in December, I exited the Davis Square subway, and walked east on Elm St. for one block. I counted 8 empty storefronts. Somerville is the most densely populated town in the Commonwealth, and yet their busiest hub languishes. 

Less than a mile away, in Medford Square, the empty storefronts have created empty streets. These two extremely dense communities demonstrate that zoning and density together are not sufficient. It is a complex issue of tax law, finance, and economics. Political pressure on landlords may be a start. 

Last edited 1 month ago by Molly L Haskell
John McClain
March 13, 2024 10:29 am

We have been digging this hole for decades, I don’t think anyone expects the new zoning to fill in the hole all by itself. But the fact remains the smallest conforming residential lots in town are 25,000 square feet. The fact we limit ourselves to building single and two-family homes on such big lots is one big part of the ‘market’ forces that cause developers to build massive homes.

I am not sure where you are getting 3.5 story 8k sf duplex. The maximum the new zoning allows is 3 stories (2.5 along the central part of of Loomis — the same limit that is there now for single and two-family), and the new rules only apply to if you are building at least a three family.

Is density a pancia? No, but let’s at least put places where people can walk to things instead of generating more car trips.

Julia Whiteneck
March 8, 2024 12:31 pm

Having been part of a group reviewing many of the options, I came away with an understanding about Bedford’s results. Nobody wants the multifamily housing in their neighborhood except those who agree with the concept from the get-go. I would love for the zoning to include my house but having any zone designated is fine with me.

I think the traffic argument can be made for any location: more cars is more traffic either in an already busy area or disrupting quiet neighborhoods. But wouldn’t more residents on a bus line encourage more bus use and less traffic?

So, since the planning board did so much advance planning and took so many points of view into deep consideration, I highly recommend their chosen area be approved to allow us to comply with this new law and move on to more important things. I think if Selectboard member Mortenson is so worried about traffic he ought to focus on ways for Bedford to ameliorate that traffic (Bikepath, anyone?) and not just on last minute stirring up tensions.

Suzy Enos
March 9, 2024 8:45 am

Agree! If the goal is to limit car traffic, put all the new housing zones near the bus route.

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