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Reading Conservation Commission, Selectmen Face Off Again Over Local Wetland Regulations

Hearing set for Ash Street-area traffic changes, as well.

Many moons ago, the Reading Board of Selectmen directed the Conservation Commission to defer to the Commonwealth’s wetland protection regulations, except for unique-to-Reading situations, to make applying for wetlands-related project approvals easier for both applicants and the conservation administrator and commission.

Proposed new local regulations have been simplified and shortened from some 50 to 60 pages to 30 to 40 pages and would apply, commission Vice Chairman Jamie Maughan told the selectmen Tuesday, to most single family home-related wetland projects.

The draft includes less-stringent rules for “minor projects;” state regulations do not offer that option.

The commissioners did not present a side-by-side comparison of the state and local regulations, which some selectmen seem to want because, commission Chairman William Hecht said, the state regulations are not “straightforward.” Sending people to the 240 pages of state rules would confuse them, Hecht said.

In some cases, the draft increased the number of local regulations, said Selectman John Arena, such as those that pertain to maintaining landscaping in a wetland buffer zone.

Arena said he was concerned about the “reach, scope and intrusiveness” of the proposed new regulations.

Now, any work in a buffer zone requires an application, Maughan said. Under the draft rules, maintaining landscaping in a buffer would not require approval.

Arena also questioned a proposed application fee which, he said, would increase.

The commission wants the application process to be “revenue neutral,” Maughan said.

For small residential projects, the draft simplifies fee calculations with a flat fee, Maughan said.

Selectman Ben Tafoya wants to hear from town staff to see if the draft regulations would make it “easier to explain to people what they would have to do to get through the conservation process” while protecting the town’s conservation resources.

A public hearing will be held on the proposed local wetland regulations, Maughan said, after the draft goes to Town Counsel.

Town Manager proposes traffic changes in Ash Street area

In other action, Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner agreed with a number of suggestions from residents of the Ash Street neighborhood regarding traffic.

The board will hold a public hearing at its next meeting, on Aug. 21, on proposals to:

  • make Green Street one way westbound, from Main Street to the railroad tracks;
  • put stop signs at the intersection of Ash and Gould Streets, to slow traffic on Ash Street; and
  • ask for a heavy vehicle exclusion on Gould Street, based on the width of the street.

Ticketing has helped with illegal parking in the area, neighbors said.

"I am pleased that the board listened to our concerns, investigated our findings by visiting our neighborhood multiple times, and acted appropriately,” neighborhood resident Pamela Adrian, who made a presentation about neighborhood vehicle issues to the selectmen in the spring, wrote to Patch.

“The volume of traffic, speeding cars, dangerous conditions and illegal parking problems we have been experiencing since the construction (on upper Ash Street to open up Ash Street to traffic coming from Main Street) were serious problems that resulted in accidents, made our streets unsafe to pedestrians, and in many cases made upper Ash Street and Green Street impassible.”

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