Moms Talk: What Makes Reading a Great Place to Raise Kids?

And what would the Moms Council change about the town, if they could?

Each week in Moms Talk, our Moms Council takes your questions, gives advice and shares solutions.

Our conversation starts today with a broad topic, but a good one. This week, we asked the Moms Council: From a parent's perspective, what makes Reading a great place to raise kids? And what is one thing you would change if you could?

Here’s what they had to say:

Alicia Botticelli-Tarasuk

Reading is such a great town! I was born and raised in Reading, so I may be a bit biased, but nonetheless, it is wonderful. I live AND work in Reading. Having gone through the schools I saw first hand how great the schools were. I played sports and took part in the drama program so I saw that aspect of the schools too. I stayed in Reading to raise my children here. I love the small town feel and the proximity to Boston and points north as well. 

Although bad things do occasionally happen in town, I feel it is still very safe for my family. I also like the fact that the commuter rail stops in town which is convenient to take into sporting events and such. We have easy access to major highways so work commuting is easy. We have a town meeting form of government which affords more citizenry input. Reading has always been known as a "bedroom" community, and the fact that we are one of the few cities and towns around that is not divided by a major highway helps to keep our bedrooms snuggly with a true sense of community.

So get involved to keep this town wonderful.

Erin Calvo-Bacci

When my husband and I couldn't sell the commercial building that homes The Chocolate Truffle in Reading, we had to make the tough choice of selling our home and moving a family of five into the apartment above the store. The consolation came with knowing I was moving my family to a town with an excellent school system in a tremendous and friendly community.

In 1979 my parents chose Reading for the school system, the land and the proximity to Boston and major highways. Ironically, the issues that were present then are still present today; the mindset that our town is "better then other communities" has trapped us in a slow-moving cycle detrimental to positive growth and change. It's interesting that elected officials and committee members talk about the tremendous improvement to downtown, when the downtown of my youth had a large variety of stores to shop for stationary, shoes and groceries. 

Our downtown is about to get more apartments which equates to a larger strain on our services.

As a parent I'm concerned with my children and work at being the best parent who can guide them through life challenges and provide them with the best opportunities. Most every parent that I know, myself included, dedicates an exceptional amount of time to volunteering for their children in the schools, in sports and with activities. As a

parent and a business owner I also volunteer within the town because I have a vested interest. As a parent I want change within Town Leadership. I want leadership to understand and address that it doesn't matter how we compare to other towns, how do they cultivate an environment where the community will work together respectfully? I

want Town Leaders focused on how we become the best Reading and work effectively at attracting businesses with employees who take time to support our businesses generating revenue so that all parents can afford to live in the place that I think is the best place to raise children.

Erin Calvo-Bacci February 22, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Alicia thanks for mentioning the commuter rail, I forgot to mention that which makes it so much easier to commute into Boston too!
Barry Berman February 23, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Erin I am confused. You say you want positive economic development and revenue growth yet you lament the apartments coming downtown because it will be a strain on services?? Who do you think will become the new customers of the ChocolateTruffle? When new folks move to town they bring energy, new ideas and dollars. You can,t have it both ways.
Rob February 23, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Show me a town thats increased it's quality of life by adding rental properties. If someone wants a place like that, they're always free to move to Lynn or Malden.
CommonSenseCitizen February 23, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Dunbar: I'm not sure if snapping at people is the right approach to productive discussion. You have valid points, but try forming them with less aggression. Also, while on wikipedia, look up "straw man" because it adequately describes your assertion that Alicia is unhappy in Reading. Barry: The alternative argument can be made as well. Apartments have a transient nature to them. Generally speaking, people who buy homes in a town are looking to put down roots long-term, while renters are not. Guess which group is going to care more about town issues, ordinances, and commercial development? I rented for 1 year in Reading 15 years ago after college. I spent no time and money in town because I was always headed off to Boston. Now that I am back and own a home here, I am interested in what's happening and in supporting local business.
CommonSenseCitizen February 23, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Rob: Succinctly stated. The main beneficiaries of new rental complexes are the developers and the landlords. My guess is neighboring business only sees a slight ripple effect-- especially when targeting renters who want quick and easy access to the commuter lines into Boston. The good news is that rental developments and multi-family rental properties do not negatively affect neighboring home values. MIT did a study on this and found no link, positive or negative. They used Kimball Courts in Woburn as one of their case studies, monitoring a control neighborhood and surrounding neigborhoods. I'd enjoy seeing a similar study seeing if neighboring businesses benefited from the development.
CommonSenseCitizen February 23, 2012 at 01:39 PM
And aren't we off track? Isn't this supposed to be about the kids, and what the town has for them that's positive? Plenty of parks, a great library, concerts in town center, street fair, winter skating, FORR... seems pretty good to me.
Emily M February 23, 2012 at 01:46 PM
community recreation program seems to have a lot of stuff for the kids too!
Mr White February 23, 2012 at 05:27 PM
BTW...Winter is officially over, they've drained Castine Field! No more(?) winter skating:(
Terry February 23, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I only hope Reading will be more fair in appraising property for taxes. People like Tom Silva who has an immaculately restored Victorian for a long while was having his house being assessed at low 400's. Even now I can't believe his house is only assessed at $506,400. I can provide other examples too, such as 109 Colburn Rd., which was recently sold for $512k. In 2010 the property was assessed at $415,900. Meanwhile, properties on my block are being assessed for more than their market value.
peter lucci February 23, 2012 at 07:16 PM
You think it's bad now Terry, you better hope that the Queen doesn't win!!! 580 Main
CommonSenseCitizen February 23, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Terry: I'm not sure what you think is unfair. Silva's house on Locust street isn't any bigger than anyone's house in the area. In fact, there are larger houses on his street. He takes immaculate CARE of his house, though. Do you think anyone will pay over $500k for his house? I don't. When you boil it down, it's still X bedrooms, X bathrooms, and X square feet, located in X area. Are you suggesting the assessment should incorporate enthusiasm of the owner as well as how tastefully appointed it is?
AnonLikeU February 23, 2012 at 08:12 PM
The Silva property has had some very, very nice, fancy remodeling done to it over the past couple of years. Things like heated driveway, etc. All the bells & whistles in a small package. I would expect to see a big jump in the assessed value of that property when the town finishes with the assessment work this year. If not, the system is definitely broken.
Barry Berman February 23, 2012 at 10:01 PM
The market rent for those apartments will be about 2000 per month. You don't think those people will spend their money in town? You don't think that they will love Reading like you and want to buy here? One thing Reading is not is parochial
macmic76 February 23, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Barry, I agree with your statement that the money will be spent in the area. But where? the empty storefronts is just embarassing. I believe it takes time, no argument from me on this one. But come on, I think people just want to know how long? One year, two years. when does a smart growth zone become a not so smart decision? why is it taking sooo painfully long.
macmic76 February 23, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Terry, do you really care about what someone else home is assessed at? you mention, "properties on my block are being assessed for more than their market value." would you prefer they be assessed lower than market value? Oh please.
Barry Berman February 23, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Hopefully with oak tree and then the building at Haven and Main, a critical mass of people living downtown will help create demand for new businesses and services. It won't happen over night but the only way to keep some of those small businesses thriving is to create new customers.
M February 24, 2012 at 12:03 AM
What do a mass of renters (presumably mostly childless, or so they promised based on # BR in the apt) need for "new businesses and services"? Plenty of drugstores up the street, no shortage of coffee places and ATMs. Well, they gotta buy groceries --Oops, knocked down the grocery store to build their apartment. No room in downtown for another one so they'll have to leave downtown for that. They may need household items (e.g. small appliances, towels, etc) or clothes/shoes. Nothing downtown for that, except for an expensive children's store and a nice boutique store for women (nothing for men), so they'll have to leave downtown & head to Kohls/Target etc for that. If they want a pizza or other takeout, they'll be all set, I guess, so maybe more restaurants is a possibility. I agree with #macmic76, the storefronts have been empty for YEARS. The newest "store" to move in is a cash for gold place on Haven...an increase in customers for that kind of place to me seems a bad sign vs a good sign.
Barry Berman February 24, 2012 at 12:10 AM
So I guess we should do nothing and watch those store fronts stay empty.
M February 24, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Nope, not saying that...just saying that a new infusion of people in apartments does not mean that they will do their business/shopping downtown, vs somewhere else. It depends on what goes there. Those storefronts are empty for reasons beyond lack of folks living downtown to shop there. Everyone says they love small unique stores, etc., but in reality we are all pressed for time from day to day need to be able to get our shopping done in as few stops as possible, with easy in and out, which is why some downtown areas without much parking and with very awkward traffic patterns, like our downtown IMHO, don't do well (the many traffic lights, left & right turn only switches, etc, make Reading Center a real pain to navigate). I'm no retail expert, just a Reading resident for 12 years with 2 small kids, and my ability/desire to shop downtown seems to be limited to Walgreens (which has parking), bi-weekly forays to Sammy Jo's, weekly trips to the ATM, and the occasional takeout. If the library were downtown (as it is in Wakefield) I'd probably be there multiple times a week.
CommonSenseCitizen February 24, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Donna Dudley says: "All the bells & whistles in a small package. I would expect to see a big jump in the assessed value of that property when the town finishes with the assessment work this year. If not, the system is definitely broken." Again, why? I bought a home and added a ton of remodeling on the inside. I had to redo bathroom renovations done by previous owners because their work was shoddy and they cut corners. Tell me: when they did that work, should the assessment have gone up? Should my assessment go up because I fixed it? I don't think you understand how assessments work and why. According to your argument, if I let my property go to pot, do no upkeep, put no money into it, and make it an eyesore, I can get away with lower taxes AND bring down my neighbor's home values! Look at that, we all win!
CommonSenseCitizen February 24, 2012 at 03:52 AM
*Big roll eyes* Barry, don't pout. If you don't agree, maybe it's just because there's another answer. 'M' is making valid points about why some of the buildings are still available. I have never gone to the CVS because the routes I usually drive get me to the Walgreens easier. That's one example. Also, a critical mass of people in the downtown is NOT the answer. There's plenty of traffic going through the downtown and the storefronts are empty. Try this exercise: name a business that we don't have nearby that would be useful there. Because I am sitting here trying and I can't fill in the following blank: "If only there was a ____ downtown." It used to be "bar with good beer" but thankfully we have that now. Your "Field of Dreams" optimism (populate it and businesses will come) is admirable, but misguided.
Emily M February 24, 2012 at 03:38 PM
wow, i'm speechless. people will pay $2000 to rent an apartment? I can't see them spending their money in town, since they'll be out cruising all day and night in their Bentleys.
Emily M February 24, 2012 at 03:39 PM
a while back there was chatter about the first floor of the Haven St apartments to be retail shops - is that still the plan?
AnonLikeU February 24, 2012 at 06:49 PM
I understand how assessments work, and they're based on property valuation. If you increase the value of your property via remodeling, addition etc., or the value is increased by the market, your assessed value goes up, and you pay more taxes. The assessed value, and what the property might be worth at that moment in time are never quite in synch because the appraiser is looking at real property values that are 12-18 months old. When the RE market is on the rise, this works in our favor, when in decline, not so much. When our properties are reassessed this year, the appraiser will attempt to get owner access to the inside of a house. If s(he) can't, then they'll calculate a value based on all the factors you mention, similar neighboring homes, AND the building permits that have been taken out during the period since last assessment. When I viewed the recent RCTV forum between the two candidates for the Board of Assessors position, this is what I heard. Please tell us how it is you think assessments work. The repairs to your home may or may not warrant an adjustment, it depends on its current valuation and the factors mentioned above.
Mr White February 24, 2012 at 07:14 PM
DD- The last sentence of your post completely makes CSC's point and arguement against you, "The repairs to your home may or may not warrant an adjustment, it depends on its current valuation and the factors mentioned above." Just because someone has added to, modified or repaired their property does not constitute an automatic increase in their assessment. Valuations are based on "Market Value" and there is typically a 2-year lag in current assessments vs current MV.
AnonLikeU February 24, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Hi Mr. White, If a homeowner adds a $100K addition to their home, all other things being equal, the value of their home will go up, and their assessed value will eventually reflect that resulting in increase to property taxes. Perhaps we're arguing about two different things then, because if the market value of a property increases, however that may come about, its assessed value increases and taxes go up. It seems pretty straightforward to me.
Christine February 24, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Reading used to be a part of Lynn years ago.....Now I am convinced it still is!
peter lucci February 24, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Hey look, Christine the fraud has re-emerged!! Why don't you & your wife head on back to Brockton. Just keep bashing your old home town anonymously, someday maybe you'll come back, if your wife let's you of course.


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