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Board of Selectmen Talk Town Meeting, Affordable Housing

And other matters from Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting.

Beset by waning Town Meeting numbers and worried about potential quorum issues, Reading Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner presented the Board of Selectmen with a draft of a warrant article to reduce the size of the town’s representative Town Meeting.

Last fall’s subsequent town meeting was abruptly adjourned because of a lack of quorum, and the ballot for the March 6 local election features just 134 names for the 192 positions up for election. This year, all town meeting members will stand for reelection because of the recent redistricting of precincts.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Hechenbleikner presented a plan to reduce the size of Town Meeting from the current 192 members to 144.

Currently, each of the town’s eight precincts has 24 member slots that are staggered over three year terms. 

“It doesn’t seem like our town meeting is the right size for our town,” said Hechenbleikner.

The process for changing Reading’s Home Rule Charter—specifically, Article Two—will first require the the approval of Town Meeting, and then a petition to the state legislature. Once the governor gives it the greenlight, it will appear on an election ballot.

Amplified Sound

The board heard the findings of the Amplified Sound Subcommittee from Selectman James Bonazoli, who also serves on the sound subcommittee. According to the report presented at Tuesday’s meeting, the subcommittee fixed the definition of amplified sound as “anything that goes above its normal level.” He also said the nuisance factor is determined by things like duration and frequency.

Under the revised policy, one-time events will still need only apply for a permit through the recreation department, while any ongoing happenings—such as Reading Bulldogs baseball games, which precipitated the row over this issue, will need to be signed off on by the Board of Selectmen.

A public hearing regarding the amplified sound issue is scheduled for Feb. 14 in the Selectmen’s Meeting Room at 7:30 p.m.

Downtown

The board heard a presentation from Randy Collins of Beta Group regarding plans to improve Haven Street, as well as High and Linden Streets. The plans call for a widening of several streets as well as additional parking and plantings. 

Selectmen had balked at an earlier proposal which included roundabouts, and the new Beta Group plan addressed that issue by removing them.

Nearby residents, however, attended the meeting, and some were none too happy with the proposal.

Adele Blunt, of Linden Street, expressed concerns with workers on her property, and said she didn’t think a lot of the plan was necessary.

“I’ve been on (Linden Street) for 51 years, and people already park on both sides of the street,” she said. “I think it’s been working fine. Why do we need to do this when we have a municipal parking lot? What about the people who live there?

“Obviously, I’m not happy with the plan.”

No action was taken on this matter, but after hearing the concerns of residents, the board indicated there will certainly be further discussions in the future.

Other Business

Last November’s Town Meeting granted the Board of Selectmen the authority to sell some town property at Pearl Street and Audubon Road, and according to the Town Manager, several abutters are interested in squaring off their lots by purchasing parts of the parcel.

Another property the selectmen are looking to sell, at Lothrop Road, will require a variance on its frontage before it will be buildable. Town Counsel has recommended that the town secure the variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to expedite the sale and to obtain a higher price. Hechenbleikner reminded the board that abutters had asked that the property not be allowed to be combined with other lots, which might result in a subdivision being built.

The town also owns a significant parcel on Oakland Road, but before it can be sold, the town will need to go to land court and eliminate the paper streets that are part of the parcel. Hechenbleikner stated it could take up to 18 months to get the matter through the slow-moving land court system. He also said he would be asking the Finance Committee for $5,000 to cover the expense.

Town Planner Jean Delios updated the board on the status of the town’s affordable housing. Reading’s affordable housing percentage is 7.15 percent, well short of the state’s 10 percent requirement to comply with “anti-snob” zoning.

She said the town needs to update the Housing Production Plan, which expired in January, as the state requires municipalities to do so every five years.

Additional staffing will be required to implement the plan, according to Delios, and funds would be drawn from the community services budget. She stated that she anticipates having a completed plan to submit to the Community Planning and Development Commission and Board of Selectmen in three or four months, after which it will go to the state for certification. 

“We need it to demonstrate we are taking all the steps necessary to achieve affordable housing,” said Delios.

Reading is currently 141 units shy of achieving the 10 percent goal.

“It’s in the interests of the town to get the full affordable housing credit,” said Selectman Ben Tafoya.

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