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Group to Draft New Demolition Delay Bylaw

Related Town Meeting warrant article may be withdrawn if new bylaw includes appeal process.

An article on the spring Town Meeting warrant with a history dating back to November may be removed from the warrant so a new bylaw can be written that affects certain properties in town – and, ultimately, their possible demolition.

Erin Calvo-Bacci, owner of on Main Street, proposed to add an appeal to the Board of Selectmen to the town’s demolition delay bylaw, for structures that the local Historical Commission deems potentially historically significant.

Calvo-Bacci agreed at the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday to postpone the article to November Town Meeting so a new bylaw could be written, instead of amending what a number of town officials at the meeting described as an already-confusing bylaw.  The process of adding properties to a list of potentially significant structures is not clear and concise and lacks guidelines, according to the warrant article background.

Two members of the Board of Selectmen and the Historical Commission, which administers the bylaw and Calvo-Bacci will work to write a new bylaw, according to Tuesday’s discussion.

Calvo-Bacci told Patch Wednesday that she is “contemplating” withdrawing the warrant article.  She is waiting to withdraw it, she said, until she hears from the selectmen how they will form the bylaw writing group.  Selectmen Rick Schubert and John Arena will represent the selectmen.  

The bylaw’s purpose is “to preserve and protect historically significant structures within the town” with “distinctive” architectural, cultural, economic, political or social history features.

Any owner of a structure deemed potentially historically significant needs the right to appeal the listing, Calvo-Bacci told Patch.  She described that designation, voted by the local Historical Commission on her property and others, as a “stigma.”   

If the owner of one of those properties applies to demolish the property, the Historical Commission can, under the bylaw, impose a demo delay of up to six months if they vote the property a “Preferably Preserved Historic Structure” after a hearing, according to the current bylaw.

No Reading bylaws have an appeal process written into them, according to Historical Commission Chairman Mark Cardono, in a memo to Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner. Further, a member of the Massachusetts Historical Commission “knows of no demolition delay bylaws that have an appeal process through the Board of Selectmen,” Cardono wrote.

The only way a property could be exempted from the bylaw, according to Town Counsel Gary Brackett of Brackett & Lucas, absent a specific provision, is if the Historical Commission received a request to reconsider a decision based on new information not presented the first time.

At the same time that Calvo-Bacci had her property listed on a local property inventory, separate from the bylaw, she received a notice of a public meeting where the Historical Commission planned to vote on listing properties, including hers, as potentially historically significant, she told Patch Wednesday.  The letter states that “You are not required to be present” at the meeting, she said, and she did not attend.

People don’t understand what the designation of potentially historically significant means, Calvo-Bacci contends.   

In considering structures that might fall under the bylaw, the Historical Commission considers criteria such as buildings’ architecture, architect and the “George Washington slept here” factor, Cardono told Patch Wednesday. A consultant to the Historical Commission researches local structures, he said.

Karen Gately Herrick April 12, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Mr. Carpenter you would best serve the readers of this outlet by checking your facts. It was NEVER proposed or agreed by the Selectmen and the RHC that there would be any written process on the Town warrant at spring town meeting so your statement is inflammatory and factually incorrect. I believe that we were both at the Selectmen's meeting when this very topic was discussed. Furthermore this warrant article highlights a flaw in our town meeting process. The authors were given a hearing, by the Selectmen to address their concerns, a plan of action was created and the authors agreed to the plan in the Selectmen's meeting. Within a few days, however, these same authors decided that "they knew best" and drafted another warrant article on the same topic with just ten signatures. if there is anything that Reading residents and Town Meeting members should be upset about, it is the Warrant article's authors flagrant disregard for anything but their narrow minded and self-serving agendas. This is not how We Make Reading Better.
Karl Weld April 12, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Finally. What should've been done from the beginning is finally happening. The whole by law should've been rewritten as soon as this issue became apparent LAST APRIL. There was heated debate about being included on this list when Town Meeting decided to lower the demo delay from 12 to 6 months at last year's meeting. The issue came up again last fall because the underlying issue about those who don't want to be on the list had no recourse but to go to court. A simple appeals process was asked for, so property owners could appeal inclusion without having to go to court. Kind of like appealing a zoning decision to the ZBA. Apparently that was too much to ask for from the Historical Commission. So now the whole darn thing can be rewritten to ensure this basic due process right. Too bad this decision wasn't made last year when it came up the first time. P.S. The consultant did a full inventory the last time, in order to update the list from I believe 1929, so now we have a full accounting of ALL the historically or architecturally significant properties in town. Right? Or can we expect another grant request and further additions?
David Mancuso April 12, 2012 at 10:43 PM
How do “we” not make Reading better by ensuring that “our" local bylaws, rules and regulations are concise in their purpose, language and scope? Where is the harm in having bylaws that are unambiguous and easy to interpret without a lawyer and equitable for "all" parties involved, including those who wish to appeal decisions made under the authority of the bylaw? What damage is done by an appeals process that keeps the remedy for locally made laws within the community where they were made rather than at the costly (to both Town and the individual), time consuming level of the state courts? After considerable discussion on the subject the Selectmen have clearly determined we can do better and are right to ask the interested parties to do so. If good fences make good neighbors, then great policies can make exceptional communities. Isn’t that what we all want for Reading?
John Carpenter April 12, 2012 at 11:15 PM
I regret that Ms. Herrick was offended by my comments. Apparently we attended different meetings, even though we were in the same room. In the meeting I attended, several Selectmen discussed the need for an open process, and frustration that one had not been drafted (by the time of the BoS meeting in question). One Selectman offered that, if the Historical Commission continued to delay development of an open process (for addition of properties to the first of the series of lists), he would write it himself. If that isn't direction from the appointing Board and expression of priority, I don't know what is. The authors of the 'new' draft Article attended at least one and possibly additional Historical Commission meetings since that time, and did try to offer input to the Commission's version of a policy, which was unproductive. The new article was drafted after the meeting(s) with the Historical Commission. Yes, other Town processes are "broken," but none to my knowledge is as blatantly unconstitutional and subjective as is the one we are discussing. Please, let's work together to draft two open and equatable processes with appeal steps - one for nomination of candidate properties "of historical significance," and the other to open the current process for demolition delay. As an experienced procedure writer in industry, I'd be glad to attend the working group meetings and help to build a draft that will be acceptable to the Town's citizens.
David Greenfield April 14, 2012 at 02:55 AM
With the beautiful historic structures in Reading, it would be a shame to weaken the already minor protections and turn the decision over to a 5 member political board. The members of the BOS at any point in time can easily have 3 members that simply view historic structures as old buildings, as this current BOS has demonstrated. I would urge you to leave the decision about preservation in the hands of people for the years to come that actually have an appreciation and understanding. Instead of putting all historic structures at even greater risk, I would urge you to focus on the real issue and that is simply a refined criteria for applying the minimal protections available. Preservation is not about who lives in a home or briefly owns it at any point in time, it is about preserving the historic structure. Thank you

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