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.