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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.

John April 29, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Even though I was one of the 73 who voted against the reduction in time for demo, I respect the vote of Town Meeting and will vote against "reconsideration" if and when that takes place. Enough already.
John April 29, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Hot off the press from the Reading Chronicle: Selectman Chair, James Bonazoli filed a motion to reconsider, last evening, for his fellow Selectperson Rick Schubert. This morning he changed his mind and withdrew his motion to reconsider. Good move.
Erin Calvo-Bacci April 29, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Thank you Town Meeting Members who voted to amend this bylaw. The issue that was made very clear is the General Bylaw needs to be amended. When I was informed a received a packet with a letter dated Sept 9, 2010 saying congratulations your property has been added to the List of Historical Properties, a second letter inviting me to a Reception to receive my certificate on October 18, 2010 and a third letter notifying me of a public hearing on November 9, 2010.Where was the appropriate course of action for due process? A person purchasing a historic building is aware of what their purchasing. 102 properties were recently added to the list in accordance with the bylaw because the town was given a grant to "find properties of historical significance." We need Good Intelligent Historic Preservation which will encourage people to view their property as an investment not a hindrance.
Karl Weld April 30, 2011 at 04:01 PM
I really appreciate the work that our historical commission does. Especially since it's primarily all volunteer time. I love history, and truly value maintaining the truly historical buildings in town. Unfortunately, this by-law and the way it's implemented is so skewed against the property owner that it has to be addressed. Giving the property owner an incentive instead of another regulation for the preservation of the property could be an effective way to get more properties saved and saved faster. And it does away with the concerns about the 5th Amendment and process issues that a lot of people have.
Karl Weld April 30, 2011 at 04:07 PM
More about the incentive: if the Town sees value in maintaining the heritage of the town then the Town should be willing to pay for that in the form of a Historical Preservation Tax Credit, or something along those lines. It would also mitigate some of the lost property value that being on the list brings by adding the value of the tax credit back to the property. That would give the property owner an incentive to do everything possible to preserve the property, and at the same time it makes the property owner and the Town partners in historic preservation instead of adversaries between development and new growth and historic preservation. That, coupled with a six-month demo delay may be all that's needed.
John May 03, 2011 at 02:52 PM
The Assistant Town Manager's presentation to Town Meeting last night regarding myth vs fact with the Town of Reading's employee health insurance benefits was very enlightening. I was very surprised that Mr. Weld didn't have something to say, since he has so much to say re: this subject on these Patch blogs.
Karl Weld May 03, 2011 at 03:14 PM
John, it's not the percentage that the employees pay (which was the focus of most of the myths that Bob brought up) that is the main issue. It is the cost of the plans themselves. As I pointed out in a previous post, by reducing the TOTAL premium cost the Town can realize significant savings. Which as Bob also pointed out last night, the Town and the unions are in the process of ratifying right now. The number I've heard is in the neighborhood of $500,000-$600,000. That's real savings and I applaud our employees for renegotiating this change. Note: renegotiated. The unions agreed to shift more of the costs to the employees via out-of-pocket expenses such as higher co-pays and deductibles. Meaning those that use the services pay more. Which is what I was talking about and you appear to have a big issue with. The fact that this renegotiation took place reveals the seriousness of the issue. A fact recognized by our employee unions. And I thank them for that. We all should. Now, as new development revenue comes on line we should have the flexibility to hire new staff and compensate current staff better (raises and COLA increases) because our insurance costs are lower. The fact that Reading pays a percentage below surrounding communities is a plus for taxpayers and I am grateful that our employees have agreed to this split. None of the "myths" that you refer to were ever uttered by me. That's why I didn't comment.
John May 03, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Come on Karl, aren't you the same guy who was blogging links to websites that were pointing out the gross disparity between public and private health insurance benefit and contribution rates? That was Bob's central theme and you know it. I'm thinking that maybe you were schooled a bit last evening. Not once in your several blogs did you commend the Reading employees for paying a higher percentage than surrounding communities, not once, and this has been the case even before any of the the recent renegotiating.
Karl Weld May 03, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Yes I am, because overall there is a disparity between public and private sector health insurance cost distribution. Reading is definitely in line with private sector on a percentage basis based on the info presented last night. What wasn't discussed was the average premium price in the private sector vs. public. And you know what the biggest disparity is John, I and my co-workers can't veto any changes to what is offered to us if we want to. We have to no choice in plan design. My premium contribution doubled over last year. Doubled. My choice was to take it or get my own insurance. How do private companies control insurance costs? They get lower cost plans that invariably shift the costs to the employee in out-of-pocket expense increases. Which is what this town just did. Kudos to all involved for this compromise. Our employees deserve recognition for doing their part to save the Town money. I am pointing that out now. And honestly, I don't care what other communities are doing or how we compare to them. I live in Reading, not Peabody or Stoneham. And I care about what Reading can afford. Other communities can do as they see fit. It has virtually nothing to do with what we do other than offer competition for employees.
abc May 03, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Karl how can you say you don't care about how we compare to other communities? You should care. You need to look at other communities and see how they are doing during the good and bad times and how they overcome things. Maybe something can be learned there. You should be comparing the Schools, Police, Fire, DPW etc... Some other communities may actually be doing things better than Reading, just like other communities may be looking at Reading to see how things are done here.
Karl Weld May 03, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Let me rephrase that. I don't think that the argument that Town X is paying 85% has any bearing on what Reading pays. There's only one Reading, with our particular mix of interests and priorities. We may be similar to other communities, but that is not a sound basis for determining policy in Reading. Just because surrounding communities charge X for a certain fee, why does Reading have to follow suit? I do agree with you that surrounding communities may be doing something that could work in Reading and we should definitely look at those policies. I think Town Management has seen the collaboration between Wakefield and Melrose on their Health Dept. and has determined that that may be a good policy for Reading. I support that effort.
John May 03, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Whether you like it or not Karl, there are many fundamental differences between private and public employment. I am sorry to hear that your premium costs doubled, mine did also, but I'm not demanding that because my personal employment situation is x, so should everyone else's. One large difference between public & private is that of bonuses. I have been fortunate enough over the years that when my firm's / my own performance have been outstanding that I have had the benefit of receiving some generous additional compensation (seems like eons ago) and I hope that you and others in the private sector have "benefited" during the good times. For most, perhaps all, public employees that is not a potential benefit. I realize that they are aware of this when they take the job. So Karl you can't have it both ways, you want public to share the same hits as yourself but I'm guessing that you wouldn't be blogging during good times, looking for the hard working public employees to share in the wealth. I agree with CC, you should care about comparisons with other communities.
abc May 03, 2011 at 06:55 PM
What one town or city pays certainly does come into play. It's called competition. If one community has better pay and benefits for it's employees compared to other communities people do jump ship and change jobs. I'm sorry to hear your company doubled the premium contribution, but if you can't afford it or don't like it you could always jump ship and go work somewhere else too. I've done it and will do it again if I have too. Reading is an expensive place to live and if residents keep paying more and more for less services people will look at other places to live where they feel they get there money's worth.
Karl Weld May 03, 2011 at 07:26 PM
John, I'm not demanding anything. I'm simply pointing out that, as was presented to Town Meeting last night, insurance costs are a problem for this Town. New growth is one way to offset the problem. Negotiating with Town employees to lower costs to the Town is another. Obviously if there's more growth there's less need of concessions on the employees part. Why not look at implementing a bonus structure in the public sector? I think that is a way for Town employees to share in the good times, as you put it. And it shows respect and thanks for putting up with the bad times. Wouldn't it be great if during good times, the Town put aside money (outside of Reserves) to do what's right by our employees during the lean years. Or set aside a certain amount from new growth revenue to serve that purpose. An insurance policy if you will.
Karl Weld May 03, 2011 at 08:09 PM
John, I have a question for you. What's your solution? The hard numbers are that insurance costs are increasing by $900,000/year. Last night we heard a member ask what was the number to get back to the service levels of 2007 in the schools. I'm thinking that would be about a $6 million override right there. No word from the school department yet. So what do we do ask for an override of upwards of $7 million. Put that on top of the debt exclusion for the library, which comes in at another $6.7 million. These are big numbers. What's your answer? I'm not being snarky. I'm really interested to hear how you would address these numbers. Because this is what's in front of us.
John May 03, 2011 at 08:27 PM
I feel that an override is a very real possibility. I consider myself to be fiscally conservative/a realist. But when we get to a point where I feel that we've cut to the bone, it is time to look into the ever unpopular override. I have a tremendous amount of faith and trust in our Town financial folks and truly feel that they have done an incredible job under the constraints imposed on them by Prop 2 1/2.
Karl Weld May 03, 2011 at 09:22 PM
The question is how big of an override do you propose. We have some huge numbers to cover. All or part? And if part, which part?
abc May 03, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Karl and John why not stop the library project that is flying through preliminary discussions? The state is going to pay 5 million and the Town of Reading and the TAXPAYERS are on the hook for close to 7 million???? I love this quote. “It is 115 years old. It was designed as a school house, not as a library,” There are 8 schools in this town and although I have not been to each one they all have libraries with computers and most houses have computers. I work out of a building in Boston that is even older than this. How can the town meeting members stand by and keep letting things like this get closer to approval? In the last ten years or more you have had a High school project, Wood End, new Police station and the Fire headquarters isn't that old along with 6 or more new vehicles for them in the last 10 years. I'm sure I missed some things too. Why aren't these projects being spaced out better? You can't keep saying how tough the budget is and the labor costs, health insurance, pensions, yet the library project is a priority. Give us all a break. No override is needed. Please stop spending all the money and start using it more wisely. Maybe push the libray project out a year. At this point what the heck is another year. I would rather have decent police, fire, ambulance and teacher coverage first as a priority.
Karl Weld May 04, 2011 at 02:43 AM
CC, When I brought up the library I was by no means voicing unconditional support for this project. Personally, when we're laying of staff left, right & center I don't think it's the appropriate time to be asking taxpayers for a HUGE debt exclusion vote. It's going to take a lot to convince me that this is the right time for this project. I also have concerns that, as far as I've been able to find out, there was no budget for this project. Instead of saying, "We have $3 million to spend (which we don't) now give us a design that meets that budget." the Board of Library Trustees and the Director of the Library said, "Design us our dream library and that's what we'll try to get funding for." This is a $12-$15 million design.
Dave Miskinis May 04, 2011 at 11:07 AM
If taxes need to be raised, they'll be raised. If we need a new addition/repairs to the library, money will be spent. (As for suggestions of benchmarking to other towns, Woburn residents are vehemently opposed to their proposed library project. By comparison, there is almost no opposition in Reading, by way of Patch.com). If people can't afford Reading, they'll move elsewhere - same with town employees. Water seeks its own level.
Dave Miskinis May 04, 2011 at 11:13 AM
One minor edit to last comment - If people can't afford Reading, they'll move elsewhere - same with town employees - and home buyers and new town employees will move in right behind them.
abc May 04, 2011 at 12:58 PM
Dave that is a real profound statement. Why raise taxes and then continue to cut basic services and programs for children and the elderly??? That is what has been happening and looks like it will continue. How about providing the basics for the residents and hold off on some of these projects till things get better. If you keep hitting people with the taxes and fees you may be one of the few who stay here. There are plenty of towns that have high taxes and fees, but the big differenece between them and Reading is they actually still provide a high level of services and programs for their residents. At the end of the day people want the most for their dollar.
abc May 04, 2011 at 01:05 PM
Dave I can afford Reading I just want things in return for the high costs. The more turnover the worst the community will become. Do you really want Reading to become a transient town??? I know I don't want that to happen.
John May 04, 2011 at 02:28 PM
"There are plenty of towns that have high taxes and fees, but the big differenece between them and Reading is they actually still provide a high level of services and programs for their residents" Speaking of profound statements! Do you really feel that you're not getting bang for your buck here in Reading? Considering that Reading's per pupil spending is below average, yet the quality of the education is/has been high, I don't see a problem. Where I see a problem is with the turnover that has already begun with our teaching staff, that's the "turnover" I'm most concerned about. Can you give us some examples of low levels of service and poor programs?
Erin Calvo-Bacci May 04, 2011 at 02:29 PM
CC and all, towns with higher taxes such as Lynnfield and Winchester does not equal a high level of service and programs for their residents. Having had a business in Lynnfield and still having a business in Winchester, these are two towns which do not have the level of services or even the same quality of education as Reading. Reading needs REAL economic development (businesses which employee 50+ people) so that we can move towards a split tax. The Oaktree development is a great project in theory, but Reading should not be giving anything away. Reading needs money and we need development, how do we better negotiate?
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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