Here’s the dilemma.
People like the historic quality of Reading.
But preserving that quality can cause “friction” for individual property owners.
That’s how Selectman Rick Schubert summarized the input at a hearing Tuesday on proposed revisions to the town’s demolition delay bylaw.
Some people have challenged the bylaw, under which the town’s Historical Commission can impose a delay of up to a six-months on demolishing a structure that’s listed on a town inventory of significant buildings.
The current bylaw has no appeal process for property owners to challenge being listed on the inventory or having a demolition delay imposed on their property. No other communities with demolition delay bylaws offer an appeal, according to several speakers.
A group of about half a dozen residents, working with Hechenbleikner, drafted a new proposed bylaw to go to Town Meeting this fall that includes an appeal of both parts of the bylaw.
Among the nine speakers in the audience Tuesday, three real estate agents said having a property on the inventory drives buyers away. Resident and attorney Maura Greene said when she went to sell her house, which was placed on the inventory in 2010, she was surprised by prospective buyers’ response – and lost a sale because of the inventory listing. Bobbie Botticelli also said having a property listed on the inventory causes problems for the seller.
But several others said preserving certain structures is important and that many homeowners are happy with being listed. Angela Binda told the selectmen that one owner of a house on Main Street built in 1805 was upset when a demolition delay was imposed on the property. The delay ran out several months ago, she said, and the house is still standing.
The bylaw only delays – not prohibits – the demolition of a property, emphasized several speakers, including Historical Commission Chairman Mark Cardono and resident James Kohl. The delay period is intended to give the Historical Commission and property owner time to come to some alternative to demolition, they said.
Do you want the delay period spent by the Historical Commission working with a property owner, Kohl asked, or in a “contentious” appeal?
Six of the speakers want an appeals process added to the current bylaw.
Resident Arthur Hayden told the selectmen his property was placed on the inventory list without his knowledge or approval.
That problem was resolved, according to Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner; the Historical Commission held a second hearing on adding properties to the list.
The other main topic of discussion was to whom an appeal of the demolition delay should go: the Board of Selectmen or the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Other appeals with “high financial value” go to the appeals board, said Selectman Ben Tafoya. He and Selectman James Bonazoli and Schubert favor the appeals board. Demolition permits go to the building commissioner; that’s zoning board, Bonazoli said. As the town’s highest elected authority, the selectmen should “weigh in” on an appeal, he added.
Selectman John Arena has a different view.
“We would abdicate our role” if an appeal went to the appeals board, he said. Selectman Stephen Goldy said he favors the Board of Selectmen as the appeals agent for a demolition delay.
Residents who expressed an opinion at the hearing want that appeal to go to the selectmen.
The selectmen and several members of the audience, including Elaine Webb, offered specific changes in the language of the proposed bylaw. Webb said she was concerned about some “gaps” in the language.
The selectmen took no vote on the proposed bylaw after the 90-minute hearing, which ended at 11 p.m. Tuesday night. About 25 people attended the hearing, including several members of the Historical Commission.