Town Meeting Shortens Historic Demolition Delay

Reading may be first in the state to ever do so.

After more than an hour of debate and a 75-73 vote that left some clapping and others groaning, Town Meeting approved Thursday an article that halves the town’s period for .

But debate on the matter may not be over.

Not long after the meeting ended, Town Meeting member Phil Rushworth informed Reading Patch that at least one member plans to make a motion Monday to reconsider the matter.

The article, as presently approved, reduces the historic commission’s ability to stall the demolition of certain structures from twelve months to six months in an effort to better-enable .

Those who opposed shortening the delay period said that allowing new developers to knock down old buildings earns a short-term gain in exchange for a long-term loss; Reading’s historic beauty, they said, was one of the factors that attracted them to the town. 

“The elegant design and architecture of some of our older homes… gives you a sense of peace and harmony and well being,” said town meeting member Ronald D’Addario. 

For some of those who favored shortening the delay, though, the vote wasn’t simply about development; it was about personal property rights and the constitution. 

Several Town Meeting members shared stories about property owners who didn’t know that their property was on the town’s demolition delay list. While representatives of the historic commission and several town meeting members opposed to the measure said those difficulties likely sprang from misunderstandings of the bylaw or irresponsible property owners, John Carpenter of precinct seven said it may put the entire law in violation of the United States Constitution. 

Carpenter cited the latter portion of the fifth amendment, which reads “[No person shall be] deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

As he understood it, he said, the historic commission could—and had—added demolition delay clauses to some properties without informing the owners.

“The whole thing should be held in abeyance until it becomes constitutional,” Carpenter said. 

Historic Commission Co-chair Angela Binda said that was a misunderstanding of how the commission functioned. While it could add any property to Reading’s , adding a property to the smaller list of demolition delay properties required a public hearing.

Binda also said that several towns in the area have recently increased their demolition delay period from 12 months to 18 months, and that she knew of no Massachusetts towns that had ever shortened their delay period. That would make Reading the first.

Town Meeting will resume Monday at 7:30 p.m.

abc May 04, 2011 at 03:41 PM
John I don't feel we are all equally getting the best bang for the buck. What took place the other night for the school budget is disturbing. Cuts being made to the schools that haven't been funded properly and I do give a lot of credit to the staff at all the schools for a job well done. Wood End bus possibly terminated or outrageous cost to use it. School Staff turnover as you stated is another. Road and sidewalk conditions not being kept up. Crime is an issue and we need more police on the street. I would like to thank a lot of the people who are on the Town meeting and on committees in this town because they have been putting in a lot of hours.
abc May 04, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Erin I respect your opinion. Those 2 towns rank ahead of Reading schools so they must be doing something right in those communities. I definitely would not want to be in Lynnfield right now. They are looking at another prop 2 1/2 override which would be 3 out of the last 5 years if it takes place. Look at schooldigger.com and a few other sites. I know people who work and live in those communities as well as Andover, Medfield, Newton, Brookline etc. so I hear a lot of what other places have to offer.
John May 04, 2011 at 03:57 PM
CC, do you feel that we can properly fund these needs without an override? And if so, how? I am at a loss for answers myself.
abc May 04, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Yes. Where there is a will there is a way. You have me on the how. I'm not an accountant or auditor. Maybe people like that should be brought in to see where things can be reallocated. Just a thought.
Erin Calvo-Bacci May 04, 2011 at 04:36 PM
We can fund these through commercial projects such as the Oaktree development. We "loan" them $400K and then they repay us and give x to our schools when they "turn" the project. Arlington did it with Stop and Shop.


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