On February 25th, the Flatley Company of Braintree, Massachusetts was on the agenda of the Bedford, New Hampshire Planning Board. Flatley, which is a sole proprietorship, came with 3 employees, an engineer, architect, traffic engineer, highway engineer, and a wetlands specialist. This array of specialists were in town to pitch a 264,200 s.f. retail complex (the largest in Bedford’s history) at the intersection of Routes 101 and 114 — one of the busiest traffic locations in town. On the concept plan was a 126,000 s.f. Target store, an 81,000 s.f. Stop & Shop supermarket, an 51,000 s.f. building for up to 4 stores, and a 6,000 s.f. restaurant. On the site currently is a 35,000 s.f. office building occupied by an insurance company. The site has residential properites to its north, and the landmark Bedford Inn to its west. A citizen’s group called Save Our Town has organized to block the proposal, which not only presents major traffic problems, but which is entirely incompatible with the town’s 2000 Master Plan, which says that commercial strip development along the Route 101 corridor is to be avoided. Bedford is in the middle of conducting a design study for the Route 101 corridor. The developer has promised buildings that use “typical New England architectural images, classical meetinghouse and some Greek revival detailing. “It is not too frilly,” the architect claimed, “but simple New England.” But nearly 3,000 local residents in Bedford have signed a petition that simply opposes this huge, out of scale, over-intense project that is more than 7 times the size of the office building now on the site. They don’t want a “light putty” Target box that is nearly the size of 3 acres. The town of roughly 18,000 people has already paid its dues to sprawl. A couple of miles to the east is the “Performance Zone”, where Wal-Mart and other sprawl lives. Three years ago, the developer submitted a request to have one corner of the property rezoned form office to commercial. The land’s historic use has been as an office zone. The Flatley site is at an important gateway into town, one that residents said they wanted to protect from commercial strips. The Target has insistedon having its own 13 acre lot. Although some local officials have proclaimed that any commercial project can be developed “as of right” if the land is zoned commercial, New Hampshire case precedent shows that a Planning Board “is not required to accept a plan solely because it can be shoehorned onto a lot.” The Courts have also ruled that towns can also object to the “intensity, character, compatibility, or harmony of a specific lot with surrounding properties.” “Even purely aesthetic issues” are the proper subject matter for site plan review. Save Our Town has hired an attorney, and wants town officials to flatly reject Flatley’s Folly.
When I visited residents in Bedford to strategize on this plan, I had to wait nearly two minutes to take a left turn off Route 101. Even the town’s planner recognizes that traffic is a major issue. The developer also said that if roadway improvements proved to be too costly, Flatley would walk away from the project. Save Our Town would love to see them take such a walk. The owner of The Flatley Company told residents “the last thing they want to do is something that would be totally resented by the community and by the Town.” So far, the company has done a pretty good job of stirring up resentment. For more background on Flatley’s Folly, contact [email protected]