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Affluent Bedford alarmed by rapid development of 450 affordable apartments

Union Leader Correspondent

September 02. 2018 1:43PM
This artist's rendering shows conceptual plans for four, three-story buildings for a total of 120 apartments to be constructed near Bedford High School. (COURTESY)

BEDFORD - With nearly 200 apartments recently built in Bedford, and about 130 more already in the works, town planners must now decide whether another 120 apartments - including 30 designated as workforce housing - should be constructed next to the high school.

A conceptual plan to build 120 apartments off Chestnut Drive was introduced to the planning board last week, and received both criticism and praise from local residents. At issue is how to address concerns about greater density versus the need to provide housing that can attract workers and younger residents.

In a newly filed staff report, Planning Director Becky Hebert is suggesting the scope of the preliminary project is too large for the parcel, located behind the former Shorty's restaurant on Route 101.

The planning staff "is concerned with the design and density of the project, particularly relating to the size, scale and number of apartment buildings," wrote Hebert, who also notes that the location is one of the few remaining in Bedford where higher density housing could be located within walking distance of the school complex, nearby restaurants and retail amenities.

Four three-story buildings are proposed as part of the conceptual plans; a formal site plan has not yet been submitted by the developers, Dick Anagnost, chairman of the Workforce Opportunity Council and president of Anagnost Investments Inc., and Bill Greiner, founder of Primary Bank.

"We would recommend fewer units and smaller buildings to better fit within the 'village' character of this area," Hebert said.

The mixed-use development project also includes the renovation of the former Shorty's restaurant. Rob Harbeson of Market Square Architects is working with Great New Hampshire Restaurants on this component of the project, intended to be an upscale, family-style American grill restaurant that will focus on local sports.

The residential portion of the project includes 90 market-rate apartments and 30 units designated as workforce housing. That designation means the apartments would be affordable for a family of three earning no more than 60 percent of the local median income. In Bedford, that monthly rental equates to $1,120 per month.

 (Image source: Google Maps. Tom Lynch/Union Leader)

Existing housing

Bedford is currently home to three mixed multi-family and workforce housing developments, including Bedford Green on Hawthorne Drive, Bedford Hills on Corporate Drive and Kensington Woods on Kensington Lane. Combined, those three apartment complexes have a total of 277 apartments with 68 workforce housing units. 

The most recent apartment buildings constructed in Bedford include Kensington Woods with 41 apartments and Bedford Hills with 144 apartments, said Mark Connors, assistant planning director. 

In addition, the planning board previously approved a 133-unit apartment building at the former Wayfarer site on South River Road. However, that project has not yet come to fruition, Connors said. 

Other apartment complexes in Bedford include Hampshire Green on Iron Horse Drive with 204 apartments, Heritage Merrimack on Hawthorne Drive with 240 apartments and Kensington Ridge on Technology Drive with 100 apartments. There are also several townhouse condominium developments in town, including Village Green, River Glen, Ridgewood and Rose Hill with a combined total of 542 condo units. 

Developers have proposed a 120-unit apartment complex between Bedford High School and the former Shorty's restaurant on Route 101. (Courtesy)

Variance needed

In order for the newest apartment proposal to move forward, the applicant is seeking a variance to increase the density to allow 120 apartment units when 90 units would be permitted. 

During a planning board meeting last week, there were mixed reactions to the proposal.

John Russell of Bedford said the project seems like a creative plan that would help young adults secure housing in town, or help those individuals trying to start over. He envisions teachers residing at the apartments and walking to the high school complex to work. 

Kevin Gagne of Federation Road said he has traffic and environmental concerns about the project. With a proposed 246 parking spaces included in the preliminary plans, Gagne said the number of vehicles leaving the site each morning could be problematic. 

Others expressed concerns about Chestnut Drive, which is used by students as a cut-through walking path, and questioned how the road would handle the anticipated traffic volume. 

More than 200 residents have already signed a petition requesting that "no more apartments be approved, particularly the current 120-unit building being planned."

Bob MacPherson of Wallace Road said that stretch along Route 101 is one of the most congested traffic areas in towns. 

"It is gridlock," he told the school board last week. MacPherson urged school officials not to allow the developers to have access to the high school's water and sewer, a request that has already been made as part of the project. 

Several people have expressed support for the proposed apartments as well, including Nick Vailas, CEO of Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center.

"From a socioeconomic standpoint, I think it is a great thing for our community," said Vailas, who said he has staff who would appreciate the opportunity to live in Bedford - an opportunity that could become a reality if the proposal is approved.

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