User-friendly customer service: that’s the mantra of the Board of Selectmen for the way the town should deal with its customers, whether they are residents or developers.
The board also wants to grow the “vibrancy” of the business district and retain the town’s “small town feel” that Selectmen Chairman Stephen Goldy said is “why we moved here.”
There’s still a lot of opportunity for economic growth in town, but not “substantial growth,” Goldy said at Tuesday's board meeting.
“We’re trying to be business-friendly,” he said, but the town is not always perceived that way.
Most of the properties the selectmen deem underutilized are small and harder to find, said Selectman Ben Tafoya.
The town is 90 percent residential, 10 percent commercial, according to the discussion.
To smooth customer service, Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner suggested that different town boards, committees and commissions meet together on applications that involve them. Town staff members communicate among themselves, commented Town Assistant Town Manager and Finance Director Robert LeLacheur, but members of boards, committees and commissions don’t: “They live in silos.” It would be helpful, he said, for them to get together. A meeting is being planned between them all, LeLacheur said.
Further, when the selectmen interview applicants for town bodies, they can “let them know what we expect” in terms of customer service, Goldy said.
The selectmen originally planned to meet with all town boards, committees and commissions to get its message to them. They narrowed the field significantly to regulatory boards, such as the Conservation Commission, Community Planning and Development Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Health, Historical Commission and Economic Development Committee.
In the realm of business development, Selectman John Arena urged the town to make an effort to draw developers to Reading.
The market will drive commercial development, said Selectman Ben Tafoya. “We do not get to pick who invests $18 million in land” here.
The redevelopment of the former town landfill took 20 years, Hechenbleikner commented – and the town owned the property. The first choice use for that property, he said, was a hotel. Now, “People love what’s there,” retails stores and restaurants.
The board also discussed the role of the town’s Economic Development Committee.
That body is the “tip of the spear for downtown vibrancy,” said Arena.
But where is the line between advocating for prospective Reading businesses with town staff, asked Selectman James Bonazoli, and guiding them through the application process?
If a customer has a problem with town staff, “That’s our responsibility,” said Tafoya, not the Economic Development Committee’s.
As for housing in town, Goldy said he doesn’t want Reading to become too population-dense.
“I don’t want to be Cambridge,” he said.
The Pulte development at the former Addison Wesley site departs from the small-town feel of the town, he said. “Some people don’t like that.” After Pulte, the town has no more large tracts of land for housing, Tafoya said.
How does the town reach the goal of 10 percent of affordable housing? Hechenbleikner asked. A consultant has started to review the town’s affordable housing and plan, he noted.