QUESTIONS & ANSWERSDISCUSSIONS
Click above on “Save Our Block” to move between the informational archive and the opinion blog.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  —  Henry David Thoreau

An ongoing, fact-based look at the project’s history. 

Please note: Nothing posted on this website should be construed as speaking for any of the ATM warrant article’s petitioners.

This opinion was based on a basic misunderstanding of the Act. In pointing out that the debate centered around a single section of the original Act of 1964, which stipulated that an exception to a finding of “inappropriateness” for so-called hardship could be made, the writer did not include the information that the exception was only possible if it would not undermine the purposes and intent of the law, which it clearly would do. 

Efforts to force the HDC to make an exception have been a matter of the ends justifying the means from the startWhen Matt Hanson cautioned that the size and scale of the building was not something they could change without giving up critical needs for the station and Commissioner McClain said that perfection is the enemy of the good enough, they didn’t take into account that the sketchy selection process was the culprit, not the law preserving the town’s historic heart.  

The letter’s conclusion that “it will take an expensive and time-consuming appeal to the Middlesex Superior Court to make a final determination” seems to assume that the Court will find that the Town conducted a proper site selection search. Based upon the 2022 ruling denying a preliminary injunction, people may assume that the facts in the matter have been tried, but they have not been. And when they are, the outcome may be a shock.

As Commissioner Canciello explained: “…as an architect, I’ve done lots of site selection, feasibility studies… And [if] there was a true study done, it would have made our job a lot easier if it said, this really is the only site that’s feasible.  I just wish that effort had been done before it got this far along that we had that kind of study with a professional planning firm actually doing that… and have a matrix and say, here are the sites, which ones work, which ones don’t work, and score them and know the pros and cons, because it would have made our job not feeling like we have a gun to our head…”

There are so many moving parts to the overall matter and no inherent disrespect in differing with the Select Board’s findings and conclusions on the subject. The video of the HDC hearing is very informative, but Lt. Mark Daly’s short statement put it all in perspective. There were excerpts of his remarks in The Bedford Citizen’s report but his delivery is well worth watching. This statement and others that he has stepped up to make (see below) deserve to be heard.

The designer will spend the next two weeks integrating the commissioners’ feedback into the design. The HDC will then take a new vote on whether or not to approve going forward with demolition. Even though the revised design was much improved, it is hard to see how the overpowering scale of the project can satisfy both the commissioners’ statutory duty and the functional integrity of the station.

The petitioners’ article calls for a better understanding of where a substation fits into the public safety and capital expenditures big picture. If, as this report claims, Emily Mitchell is well along in her preparations to refute the article’s logic, why was there not one mention of EMS statistics? Where is that research? Anecdotal references, cost assumptions, and Ms. Mitchell’s opinions are not data points. 

Sprinkler systems do not prevent heart attacks. Shouldn’t efforts to refute the petitioners’ article start by explaining why an ad hoc committee to address the town’s overall public safety facility needs — while the current project is in limbo — would not be a good thing?

There could be thirty million reasons why alternative ideas should be examined at this point. This is the right time to explore missed opportunities and new options. Nothing is moving forward until the HDC decision is resolved or Select Board members consider whether the denial was really a blessing in disguise. 

The critical needs of Bedford’s first responders have not changed. They include decontamination facilities and a firehouse that makes recruiting and retention easy. But while a substation has been called for repeatedly by firefighters, and dismissed repeatedly by officials, there are no objective findings or inquiries into the matter. A Public Records request is pending, but it’s safe to say that if the issue had been adequately addressed it would be found on the BFD website.

The 55 Great Road proposal in the letter above, in both construction and operational phases, is best seen in the context of a substation. Planning a firehouse without factoring in a sooner or later substation makes overbuilding and overspending a real possibility. So while the Bacon property is in limbo, it would be very constructive for the Town to pre-empt the ATM Petitioners’ Article and now authorize an ad hoc committee to look at the pros and cons of a substation. 

Bedford Firefighters have been making a public case for how important a substation is to their rescue mission since at least the 2022 ATM. Residents need to consider if this matter should be part of an overall solution before any project is set in stone. It should also [be considered] whether addressing the town’s safety outlook comprehensively would be more or less cost-effective than pursuing the substation issue separately. Finally, given that EMS response times to underserved parts of the community are critical, and since the need is acknowledged but always deferred, the potential for Town liability should be looked into at this time. A collaborative response from the Select Board would help to unify residents behind the Town’s fire station policy going forward. — Description of the Article

 

The needs of the firefighters have been cited as the driving force behind the new station, so why is it not worth taking a couple of months while the HDC ruling is sorted out to get to the bottom the the feasibility of a substation? Who would that hurt? Saving time and money were central to the purchase of 139 The Great Road. Why spend $30 million building a station without first looking into whether giving the firefighters what they have repeatedly called for (see aggregated firefighter comments below)  might not actually be the best option for the public’s safety and the public’s purse?

After meeting in executive session with the town counsel the Select Board issued a memo citing three sections of the 1964 law that allegedly weren’t fulfilled by the Commission. The chief complaint was that the HDC should consider whether “failure to approve an application will involve a substantial hardship, financial or otherwise, to the applicant and whether such application may be approved without substantial detriment to the public” — but an exception could only be considered if the “inappropriateness” would not affect “the historic district generally.” In other words, who is disregarding the law? 

The other defect in the Town’s line of reasoning is that the contention that the property is uniquely suited as the location for the new fire station and therefore no other location will do is absurd on the face of it. The denial of a preliminary injunction in May of 2022 was based on the Town’s prerogative to make that determination — but the HDC can’t wear blinders when it comes to the existence of other feasible sites.

Ms. McClain’s carefully reasoned letter depends on all of her stipulations being true. It would have been helpful if she had made her comments during the hearing so that her interpretation of the text and intent of the Act could have been debated by the commissioners in public.

An act of the legislature is a law and respect for the law is the highest public good. So, if the Town decides to pursue the Act’s remedy by appealing the decision to Middlesex Superior Court, that would have the benefit of sorting out the bedrock facts from the swirl of assumptions.

In the meantime, it would be good for people to withhold judgment and give all concerned the benefit of the doubt that those on both sides of the issue are motivated by honest efforts to promote public safety and the public good.

When three conscientious commissioners upheld the oath each had taken to protect the Historic District, they put the firefighters closer to, not farther from, a new home. Objections that “public safety” is taking a backseat to silly, irrelevant concerns and that the decision is a disservice to the town’s firefighters need to be examined. It is no wonder that some people feel there was an abuse of power and want to take it out on the Historic District. Appealing the decision to Middlesex Superior Court will make the underlying facts clear once and for all. That will do much to solve the urgent fire station problem. 

ANY REFERENCE ON THIS SITE TO FIREFIGHTERS’ STATEMENTS ARE TAKEN FROM THE PUBLIC RECORD.

“Recently, when I walked into the remodelled Dunkin Donuts on Great Road, I mentioned how great the new layout looked. The manager sighed. ‘Sure it looks nice, but it takes 2x as many steps for us to complete the same order. It’s awful. No one asked us — we could have told them.’ This should not be political. Listen to the Firefighters Local 2310.”  — A comment in The Bedford Citizen on 9/22/23

Lt. Daly’s statement when STM Article 7 was debated in the fall was a very clear and honest summary of an extremely complex situation. From the beginning, there has been an effort to cast those who are opposed to the Bacon property as a suitable location — for many reasons — as uncaring and out of touch with the community’s needs. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Lt. Mark Daly, expanded on the union members concerns that were shared with the town on 9/18. He said the firefighters are concerned because proposed designs, “restricted by the many limitations of the parcel will not help to facilitate the effective and efficient response necessary to service the the town.”

The news of the firefighters’ appearance at the Fire Station Building Committee meeting was startling. The wreckage that the troubled project has caused, the profound division and hard feelings — and above all the burden it inflicted on those thoroughly decent public servants — was so avoidable and is so correctable. 

“’Response Time’ cannot be applicable when talking about the difference between 139 Great and Bedford Motel and then be completely thrown out the window when discussing the whole East Bedford district.”

“So you’re talking about response times — added on to what — eleven minutes? I think the Town of Bedford really needs to be proactive here, and not reactive — and build a substation. I think it is foolhardy — foolhardy — to think we don’t need something out there. And I know, there’s not as many calls out there, there’s not as many services that are needed out there, and, yeah, it’s all sprinklers. But sprinklers don’t help you when you have a heart attack, sprinklers don’t help you when you are drowning, sprinklers don’t help you when you have carbon monoxide. There’s all sorts of things out here that need our help and we’re ignoring it. And someday it is going to come back to bite us…  No one has even entered into the conversation the fact that you increase the response times to 50% of Bedford by building a fire station out near Rt. 3. You improve the response times to Crestview, you improve the response times to Old Billerica, the whole Meadowbrook area and to Page Road. All these things keep getting pushed under the rug and it doesn’t disappear.”

There will not be winners and losers when it comes to the new Fire Station — everyone will win or everyone will lose. 

Replacing the vintage streetscape above with an industrial building and cement yard would be wanton destruction. There are far better options that were never brought to residents’ attention. It would save precious time, money, and eventually lives, to build a substation on Town land and let it serve as a platform while the current station is overhauled. There are limits to how much firefighters can get out in front on the issue, but they said they can support updating the current firehouse and have consistently called for a substation. The sooner that is acknowledged as part of an overall solution the better.

Adding a second story to the current station for crew quarters and then using the cleared footprint for a modern extension to the apparatus bay would improve rescue response times, save time and money, and pave the way for a comprehensive solution that everyone can support. Destroying a key part of Bedford’s Historic District would be a crime. Pivoting would be simple once officials admit that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes and that 139 The Great Road is not the bargain it seemed to be. Everything would fall into place. And everyone in Bedford would win.  

This was written to the new Town Manager in November to share information he wasn’t likely to hear from Town officials.

The decision of Town officials to put all of the town’s eggs in one basket when it came to the urgently needed new fire station has always suggested they had reason to expect that the Historic District Commission would approve the project. Otherwise, it would only further delay it. But since they did not consult with the HDC before the ATM vote, what made them so confident? This analysis credibly demonstrates that by directing so much attention to issues like the historic merits of the carriage house the Town chose to ignore the key paragraph in the enabling Act that effectively determined the outcome from the start

Officials were evidently relying on all the misspent time and money to put enormous pressure on the HDC commissioners, hoping to force them to ignore the duty that the words of the Act imposed on them. This is the first time in Massachusetts history that a Select Board has tried to violate its town’s historic district.   And hopefully it will be the first and last time Bedford’s Select Board will ask its own appointees to be unfaithful to the law and to their oath.         

The design team did a fabulous job but the end product is quite clearly out of place. For the HDC to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness would require nullifying the terms of the Act.  What would be handsome elsewhere appears ersatz in this block. That was inevitable and it is a shame that Town officials went to such lengths to impose an equally ersatz solution when the need for a true solution is so urgent. But it is not too late to do the right thing:

The Historic District Commission decision on whether or not 139 The Great Road is an appropriate location for a fire station complex is at least a month away, and Eversource and Verizon have yet to announce their intentions regarding the poles, but Bedford’s need for a substation could not be clearer.

Overbuilding at the current site, with a price tag that has almost doubled since the ATM vote, and turning a charming stretch of road into a cement lawn, will do nothing to improve response times to an increasingly underserved part of town.  How long does the Town think it can ignore that and not be held liable for the foreseeable consequences? Who believes that after spending $30 million on the headquarters there will be momentum left for building a substation any time soon? But overbuilding and overspending is a choice. 

The pennywise mindset that was the original rationale for the project has been exposed. The good sense behind the push to renovate the current station and build a substation on Town property would save time and money if embraced soon. Converting the western addition to the current station into a large bay for the ladder truck and dividing the living space between the two locations would be a win-win. The point is that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the issue and a public forum with the firefighters would be in the best interests of  the public good.

A video of Ron O’Brien’s resignation from the Finance Committee is not available because the routine recording of FinCom meetings did not take place. But the amazing statement that he made at the August 24, 2023 meeting, which was followed by Elizabeth McClung’s equally amazing resignation were recorded. The link is provided because it sheds light on the recurring charges of intolerance for diverse opinions and evidence of an autocratic Town government.

Article 7 was voted down but not defeated in the sense that it accomplished its purpose. It informed citizens of potentially significant risks to the viability of the project. At the same time, it presented Town Management with options that they chose to brush aside. Voting against the article did nothing to reduce the risks that were discussed in some depth. But it could still spur a reevaluation of the serious need for a substation and make people realize that it is an essential part of a much more cost-effective, time-saving, and rewarding solution for Bedford’s Firefighters/Emergency Rescuers and the town they protect. 

The focus of Michael Seibert’s presentation was risk management of the fire station building project. While acknowledging the apparent risks that the HDC process and utility poles could present to the timely completion of building the new station, his focus was on the funding risk at the 2024 Annual Town Meeting. He expanded on the effort Don Corey made in his presentation of the petitioners’ articles at the 2022 STM regarding the inevitable need for a substation as part of any plan. Efforts to minimize the issue are irresponsible and ignore the liability exposure that could undermine the case for funding.

Speculation that Article 7 could add further expense to the beleaguered project should be clarified by reading this letter by sponsor Michael Seibert. None of the alternate sites is being promoted over any other. The only thing that is being promoted is the common sense of a back-up plan, in case needed. How could identifying a contingency site fail to be in the public interest? 

The question to ask is not CAN it be done, but SHOULD it be done.

It is clear from the various quotes in this article that the HDC Commissioners are trying to make peace with some disturbing trade-offs that would have to be made in order to accommodate the new firehouse at this location. But the Legislative Act of 1964, which defines the “mays” and the “shalls” of the HDC’s mandated purpose, does not allow for trade-offs. The words are the words and the circumstances do not fit the requirements for an exemption to be made.

Article 7 was worded by a knowledgeable town resident, but if necessary can be amended from the floor of Town Meeting. The intent of the Petitioners’ Article is to provide residents of Bedford with the same opportunity: To amend a plan that, for a variety of reasons may not succeed in achieving its goal of delivering the urgently needed new fire station. If an amended article is passed, it would be up to the Select Board to identify the most suitable “Plan B” for the project. The article will be presented at the November 6th Special Town Meeting by resident Michael Seibert.

“This article would provide a path to a viable alternative location in the event that the Historic District Commission determines the exterior architectural features of buildings and structures to be erected within the historic district, which are subject to view from the public street, and/or the proposed alteration of the land and streetscape would be detrimental to the character of the Historic District and to the public interest, contrary therefore to the purpose and mandate of the Acts of 1964 as amended, or in the event of any other impediment(s) that could cause such a delay at the current location as to put the vital project in jeopardy.” In other words, in the event that the current plan proves to be fatally flawed, the Town should have a “Plan B” ready to go.

This comment was attached to the article just below this one but it applies to the whole project: “Recently, when I walked into the remodelled Dunkin Donuts on Great Road, I mentioned how great the new layout looked. The manager sighed. ‘Sure it looks nice, but it takes 2x as many steps for us to complete the same order. It’s awful. No one asked us – we could have told them.’ This should not be political. Listen to the Firefighters Local 2310.” —

As I commented on The Bedford Citizen: I don’t think that trying to reroute a runaway train before it goes over a cliff qualifies as derailing it. The Bedford Citizen article on Sunday explained that HDC approval is not a “slam dunk” — and it never was. So why wasn’t there a Plan B from the start? The statement of Bedford’s Professional Firefighters Local 2310 is a stunning testimony that Bedford needs to rethink the current agenda for many urgent reasons and fast. The upcoming Special Town Meeting is the best possible time to get this right.  Isn’t getting it right what really matters?

The Bedford Citizen’s 9/17/23 “Week in Review” included a curious heading: “The Bedford Historic District Commission’s affirmation of plans for a fire station at 139 The Great Road is far from a slam dunk.” It linked to “Some Commission Members Still Skeptical about Firehouse Site.” I left a comment pointing out that:  The HDC’s “affirmation” of the plans to locate a massive industrial building at the gateway to Bedford’s historic Center, changing the streetscape forever, was never a “slam dunk”. Why that should be a surprise deserves close attention. The underlying problems with the project will be examined this week on Save Our Block. 

 

The article’s headline was also curious since it is the duty of every commissioner to be skeptical and withhold judgment until all of the facts have been presented. “Save Our Block” will again have a booth at Bedford Day to show that there are two sides to the issue.  

*It is too bad that the public’s right to know what is going on in the official business related to this consequential project has not been respected. Meetings of the Fire Station Building Committee and The Historic District Commission have gone mostly unrecorded.  Bedford TV routinely records certain meetings but these are not among them. For the people who want to be knowledgeable — and for the historical record — there is no reason for spotty coverage. 

When I called Bedford TV to confirm that they were going to record the September 6th HDC hearing, they had received no request. So they asked for Town Manager permission and got it the next day. For many busy townspeople, The Bedford Citizen coverage that Mike Rosenburg faithfully provides gives them a good idea of what is unfolding. For others, observing what actually transpires is valuable.

In a town that cherishes open town meetings, firsthand knowledge is priceless. The Town is not limited to the requirements of the Open Meetings Law. A by-law requiring at least an audio recording of every Town meeting, including executive sessions (to be posted with the minutes — and redacted where that is required by law) would be in the vanguard of accountability and respect for the public’s right to know.  The new Town Manager could really get off on the right foot by reforming the current haphazard protocols.  That would give citizens the appetite and tools for greater and smarter engagement.

A pattern of intolerance for differing opinions in official Bedford has picked up speed over the last few years. The Town Manager and Select Board members set the tone for the community but their handbook pledge to “represent the entire community at all times” seems to have been replaced with “the ends justify the means.” The recent turnover in key positions is promising.

The failure of the Finance Committee to reach the number of votes required to recommend approval or disapproval of the
Petitioners Articles underscores the fact that there are indeed very good reasons to question the wisdom of the current course.

Special Town Meeting Finance Committee Recommendations

These excerpts from Select Board executive session minutes that were finally released shed light on the selection process.
See “Supporting Documents” page for the source documents.

Executive Session Minutes 

In his third Letter to the Editor, Mr. Corey examined a number of other drawbacks to the current site for the new fire station that were not brought to citizens’ attention before the 3/29/22 vote. That letter seems to have fallen between the cracks at the Citizen. But his conclusion is repeated here:

Come to the Special Town Meeting on November 14th and hear why 139 The Great Road is not the bargain it is represented to be.

In his second of three Letters to the Editor, Don Corey explores why the need for a substation must be factored into plans for a central fire station now.

In the first of a series of letters to The Bedford Citizen, Don Corey discusses the reasons for bringing Articles 4 & 5 to Bedford’s voters.

Letter to the Editor — 10/24/22

The Bedford Citizen report on the Finance Committee’s October 6th meeting included a review of the Fire Station discussion, but we think a more detailed analysis of what transpired will provide much-needed insight into good-faith objections to the current plan and the process that produced it. 

The Finance Committee Vote — 10/6/22

It is time for the rubber to hit the road regarding the many reasons to object to the current fire station plan. It is important to note that while this site reflects the beliefs, opinions, and concerns of many Bedford residents and often uses the “we” voice to convey that, I am solely accountable for its content. 

Since Bedford Day, I have engaged in a number of online threads and found that they generate a lot more heat than light. There is much faulty information being circulated that isn’t constructive. Being offensive will not take Bedford any closer to the new fire station the town and its great team of firefighters and emergency responders deserve. We believe that is what everyone cares about and achieving that is the sole reason for this site.

Now that the Special Town Meeting Warrant has been closed and the two articles submitted by longtime resident, historian, and public servant Don Corey will be voted on and passed or rejected on a 50/50 basis on November 14th, it is vital to understand what is at stake and not just repeat talking points. The issues will be handled in depth under the Questions and Answers tab, but I will address one of them here.

The reason that Save Our Block was the name chosen for this website, as explained in the essay below, is to emphasize that the Bacon “carriage house” is not what is chiefly threatened. What is most in danger is not a house or even a block, but the historic character and civic integrity of the town itself. Briefly:

1)  Grading 139 Great Road and replacing the lawn with a cement pad would be an eyesore, no matter how carefully the facility is designed or how many experts are consulted. There is simply no reason to do that before considering the alternatives to such a radical move.

2)  The selection process was irregular, to say the least. It may well have been one more casualty of Covid, but the details that will follow are incontestable and require attention.

3)  The language of the State Legislature’s “Act of 1964” that established the Historic District Commission does not give the Commission any authority to override the blatant in- appropriateness” of the project. Efforts to bring political pressure to bear on the Commission are profoundly unsettling.

Not everyone will recognize the triple threat posed to the town by this project but we hope that at least fifty percent of the voters plus one will.  We will examine each factor closely and are very confident that over the next six weeks there will be a shift in perception.

When preconceptions are removed from the examination and discussion it becomes clear that there are much better ways to meet Bedford’s urgent need for an exceptional fire station that can be implemented far sooner than the current proposal. Why would anyone object to that?  –Margaret Donovan  10/1/22

This site is being launched to support the community, not to further divide it. We hope that sharing important information that is now lacking and presenting a fresh perspective will lead visitors to test their assumptions before deciding if the current fire station plan really is the only thing we can or should do.

That is why we adopted the symbolism of the fieldstone wall at 139 The Great Road. It is a retaining wall. It doesn’t divide  it supports. And it connects the future to the past. A dozen generations have walked past it on their way to school or work or the market. Men who went off to fight in the Civil War might have climbed on it as children. It is a fixture of the town itself. 

But focusing on only the house and wall misses what is most at stake. We think the fire station would ruin the visual integrity of one of Bedford Center’s key blocks because architects may design a suitable building, but they will never be able to integrate it — and a concrete front yard — into that gracious block.

If this location actually is the right thing for Bedford, it will hold up under more scrutiny than has been brought to bear on it so far. We know that 268 residents out of thousands of eligible voters think it’s the right thing. But if it’s not, it could become the worst mistake in town history.

It is cavalier to suggest that the current plan “meets Bedford’s needs” — because a solution that pleases some of the people and deeply saddens many others is not a solution. It is a breach — that can only be healed by shining more light on the issues that have not been addressed.

At Town Meeting, a member of the Historic District Commission read that body’s official statement during the public comments. It is too bad the Commission wasn’t given a platform before the vote to educate voters as to the limits on the discretionary powers granted to them under the legislative Acts of 1964.

This is a perfect example of why people worked hard during a time of rapid expansion to establish a Historic District. They realized that only a body vested with the power to protect the town’s intrinsic value could withstand urgent, short-term pressures and require solutions that honor both the past and present.

The location of the new fire station is one of the most consequential decisions Bedford’s townspeople will ever make. If everyone will examine and consider the information to be offered here, while there is still time to correct course, we are much more likely to find a solution we can all embrace.

A “stakeholder” is anyone with something at risk when a policy is being discussed. In this case, that is everyone whose heart is invested in this unique and precious town. We’re all rooting for the same team. No one wants to see a mistake made that cannot be undone.

That would be much too high a price to pay.