Master Plan Committee Reviews Town’s Future Housing GoalsFeb 27, 2020 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
Bellingham Town Planner Jim Kupfer
written by Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer
Bellingham’s Master Plan Committee continued its work on Wednesday, February 12, as it reviewed the housing chapter and discussed facility needs. Board members Brian Salisbury, Don Martinis, Kelly Grant, Kelly McGovern, and Liz Berthelette were all present, along with Town Planner James Kupfer, who led the discussion.
Kupfer reviewed and updated the 2010 housing chapter to reflect what the committee has been discussing over the last year, presenting suggested goals and implementation strategies for discussion. He began with a background analysis of where we are and how we got here, followed by the goals and objectives for the next ten years. He read the opening lines for the committee’s consideration: “The town of Bellingham’s primary housing objective is to ensure that an adequate supply of housing, that is varied in type and price and located near necessary services and amenities, are available for existing and future residents.”
Kupfer explained that this is a big-picture view of what the committee has discussed. “To me, what that really means is that we’re providing for a variety of options,” he explained. This includes options for senior and starter homes, which are low in inventory in town.
There was much discussion about prioritizing diversity in housing, specifically for seniors, including looking into options for senior developments and continuing-care facilities, from independent living to nursing homes— facilities which Bellingham doesn’t currently have.
As Kupfer reviewed background information, demographics, and data points, he reminded the committee that Bellingham generally has an aging population, and a population that is cost-burdened by the housing inventory in place. He moved on to goals and objectives, which will be an important piece of the Master Plan as new developments will be looking to reflect these goals, and local boards and departments such as planning and zoning will be looking to implement them over the next ten years.
Goals discussed were to update zoning to create opportunities to encourage diversity in housing, meet and maintain the MGL 40B 10% affordable housing requirement, maximize opportunities to use existing housing stock, encourage transit-oriented development projects, and review zoning initiatives that would allow greater housing densities and options for the senior population.
While each of these goals included actionable items, the committee focused most of their discussion on diversity of housing options, including reviewing bylaws for affordable housing. Kupfer suggested looking into the use of the existing stock of abandoned properties for affordable units. Maintaining the town’s 40B requirement is an obvious goal, which would be implemented by identifying sites for affordable housing and preserving affordable units. Though the committee wasn’t convinced that transit-oriented projects would be a possibility (involving, for example, the expansion of the commuter rail), they agreed that it would be a good thing to look into. Kupfer will also add language that speaks to Bellingham’s new status as a green community.
Don Martinis added that he’d like to keep in mind the issue of traffic, requesting that a realistic, quantifiable traffic study be done on any new projects. “No matter what we do, there has to be focus [and] stress on ways to improve traffic flow,” he added. It’s an item that will be included in the infrastructure section as well; the entire committee also agreed on the importance of green space, possibly through incentives.
The committee moved on to briefly reviewing facility needs as presented by department heads, a discussion that will be continued next month. In anticipation of the meeting, Kupfer asked department heads for a big picture of their needs over the next ten years (if budget constraints weren’t an issue).
The DPW, police, fire department, and library submitted requests that were mostly for maintenance and upgrade needs. The school department replied, but too late for the meeting; they later submitted requests involving improvements to the school administration building and a long list of facility improvement upgrades, including energy-efficient opportunities and maintenance concerns.
The fire department noted that the central fire station was built to handle a staff of 11 and today has a staff of 30. They’d like to increase the bedroom space to accommodate more beds, increase bathroom space, and add on to the kitchen, which is cramped for the number of people it serves. They would like to add to the bays, since the apparatus bay is too small and cannot fit any more vehicles. While the south fire station was just upgraded and should be fine, the station in north Bellingham is just a garage and no longer meets DLS standards. The committee pointed out that the town will have to decide how to proceed with that issue.With the new police station, the police are all set for facility for the next 10 years, but the senior center’s wish list includes a larger parking lot, more office space, expanded program space, a commercial kitchen, sprinkler system (additional needed because of square footage), upgrades to all floors/ceilings/repainting, replacement of HVAC units, a generator, new windows, outdoor patio space, and an outdoor walking trail using town-owned land behind the town buildings.
General administration requests include an expansion of the SNETT (Southern New England Trunkline Trail), continuation of the effort to improve the condition and connectivity of the sidewalks, and creation of parking and additional greenspace on Harpin Street at the site of the closed Primavera (former Pinecrest) school. The Department of Public Works (DPW) had a long list of facility shortcomings, which they pointed out were the same as in 2010. Specifically, the list includes the fact that they have less than half the storage space they need for their fleet, less than half the office space they need and no space for growth. They also need improved vehicle repair facilities, a vehicle wash area (bay), stormwater collection and treatment for run-off from their site, and removal of the abandoned gasoline storage tank and reconstruction of the cement pad in the diesel fueling area.
The library building, at 30 years old, has several facility needs as well, including painting/siding the building exterior, painting the building interior, evaluation and upgrade of the HVAC system, increasing storage space, lighting upgrade, bathroom remodeling, patio and/or other outdoor space, a generator, connection to town sewer, and doors to the children’s room.
Several department heads will be invited to the next meeting to review these requests, and the discussion of facility needs will continue. That meeting will be held on March 11, at 6:30 pm, in the downstairs conference room of the Municipal Center, and all are welcome to attend. Questions can be directed to Town Planner Jim Kupfer at 508-657-2893 or [email protected].