Meeting for the first time in 2012, the Reading Board of Selectmen tackled a full agenda at a lengthy meeting at the Town Hall on Tuesday night.
Among the items up for discussion was a proposed bandstand in front of Town Hall and an actuarial study on “other post-employment benefits” (OPEB) presented by a consultant from the Segal Company. An instructional motion was put before the board to instruct the Historical Commission to draft a process allowing property owners to appeal the addition of their property to the list of historically significant structures subject to the demolition delay by-law.
The board also voted to reappoint Gail Lapointe as Town Accountant, with a term expiring on June 1, 2012, or until a successor can be appointed and approved the filing of a Community Innovation Grant, which will enhance the newly-formed regional Public Health Administration program between Reading, Melrose and Wakefield.
The bandstand discussion revives, in spirit, a similar proposal which was voted down, 3 to 2, by Selectmen back in 1997, said Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner. A computer image of the proposed structure was presented to the board, and Hechenbleikner made it known that the bandstand would be in front of Town Hall, and not on the common.
“It’s the desire of a lot of folks to emphasize downtown,” said Hechenbleikner, who cited the summer concerts, the Fall Street Faire and the Tree Lighting ceremony as examples of when the bandstand would be used. He also said that support may be forthcoming from Reading residents and town boards, as times have changed since the original proposal was shot down.
A committee of over 20 people, headed by members of the Reading Rotary, spent two years researching the project in the mid-90s and concluded that a bandstand could be built next to Town Hall without any negative effects to the building or traffic.
Some concerns were raised about the location; resident Virginia Blodgett said she felt Memorial Park would be a better location, as the summer concerts downtown were marred by traffic and noise.
The main source of opposition to the proposal, as was the case in the 90s, is the Reading Historical Commission, who feels a bandstand would block views of downtown buildings on the historical register and make the area appear “crowded.”
The Reading Rotary Club has agreed to lead fundraising for the bandstand.
Hechenbleikner stated the final design should be completed by January 2013, with construction to be finished by April or May, 2013.
Selectmen voted, 5-0, to approve the bandstand concept, but will need to vote again on the final design before the project can move forward.
Back in November, a non-binding motion appeared on the Town Meeting Warrant which would have instructed the Historical Commission to develop and present its own appeals process for property owners who don’t want their land added to the demolition delay list. The motion, as read by Town Meeting member Erin Calvo-Bacci (Precinct 5), stirred passionate debate on the floor, but after a motion to put the matter to a vote was quashed by the lack of quorum—only 94 Town Meeting members were present, three short of the number required for a valid vote—the issue was put on hold after Town Meeting was adjourned for the year.
On Tuesday night, the debate began once again.
The Board of Selectmen admonished the Historical Commission for its reluctance to review the demolition delay by-law and agreed to resurrect the instructional motion, as set forth by Calvo-Bacci, which would instruct the Historical Commission to create an appeals process for their decisions regarding placing properties on the demolition delay list.
Selectmen Ben Tafoya and James Bonazoli were both outspoken in their criticism of the Historical Commission's reluctance in this matter.
Tafoya stated that if the commission refused to look into this process, then the board would “go to Plan B.” Bonazoli, clearly unhappy with the commission’s hesitation, offered to form a subcommittee himself to look at the by-law.
Calvo-Bacci, who also owns the Chocolate Truffle in downtown Reading, originally submitted the motion when her property was added to the demolition delay list.
“Why should people be added to the list without an opportunity to be taken off it,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s a financial burden. I don’t want to be on the list due to the demolition delay.”
Historical Commission member Virginia Adams pointed out that a the by-law would have little value if people could simply opt out. Chairman Mark Cardono implored Selectmen to be patient.
“We need time. We don’t have resources,” he said. “We need town counsel to work on this. We’re volunteers. We’re only supposed to meet once a month.
Selectmen Rick Schubert pointed out the tough spot the commission is in.
“We’re asking them to have a split personality,” said Schubert. He noted that the Board of Selectmen appoints the commission to protect the town’s history, but now is asking them to back off.
As it stands, four votes from the Historical Commission and a certified letter to the property owner, mailed 30 days prior to the vote, are all that is needed to place a structure on the list of historically significant buildings. The burden of proof regarding whether or not a structure meets the criteria for “historical significance” lies strictly with the property owner, although Historical Commission members pointed out that one resident was recently able to get his property removed from the list in this manner.
Town Meeting members will now have another opportunity to vote on this matter at the spring, 2012 Town Meeting.
“The goal of this motion is to establish a clear, concise and equitable by-law that enables the town to balance its desire to preserve properties of historical significance while fully respecting the rights of the individual property owner in a manner that harmonizes relationships between concerned parties,” the text of the motion said.
A presentation by a consultant from Segal Company showed Selectmen the impact of funding, or not funding, medical benefits for current and future town retirees. According to the study, not spending money to fund the benefits now will cost the town significantly more down the road.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Camille Anthony said that not funding the benefits is negatively impacting the town’s finances. Selectmen Rick Schubert agreed, saying it’s in the town’s best interests to “get ahead” on funding the benefits.