Town Meeting Attacks Zoning Changes

November Town Meeting began its second night by approving the motion under Article 18, renaming the lighted softball field in the Birch Meadow complex for the late Frank Driscoll. Driscoll was a veteran of the Vietnam War where he received the Purple Heart medal.

Frank Driscoll’s daughters, Caitlin Driscoll Salmon, Stacie Driscoll Hall, and friend Bill Brown

He served the town as a firefighter for 29 years and was the Custodian of Soldier and Sailor Graves in Reading for 25 years. He also served as the town’s Veterans’ Service Officer. Driscoll was involved in Reading Youth Softball in various ways for over 25 years, expressing great enthusiasm for the game. “He created family on the field.” Driscoll’s daughter commented.

Anthony D’Arezzo, CPDC Member

The motion under Article 14, presented by Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) member Anthony D’Arezzo, asked Town Meeting to approve a change to Footnote 1 of zoning bylaw section 5.3.2 regarding the conversion of older single-family homes into two-family dwellings in a residential district. As written, the current bylaw is considered by town staff and the CPDC to be too unclear and too subjective to adjudicate fairly. Changes suggested by CPDC create guidelines for a public special permit process with the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) that developers of such conversions would have to follow. This would allow abutters a voice in regards to these changes in their neighborhoods. The new footnote also restricts the size of any addition to a house to accommodate conversion of this type to 1,000 square feet or one-third of the square footage of the house as it existed in 1942, whichever is smaller. 

David Talbot, Precinct 5

A significant discussion was generated around the purpose of the footnote and what the goals of the changes would accomplish. Town Meeting member David Talbot introduced a successful amendment that changed the wording of the footnote, removing the need for a ZBA hearing if no addition to the structure is planned. There was also significant discussion around the concept of how a structure could retain its original look if it needed addition for a conversion. Ultimately, Town Meeting member Nick Boivin offered a successful amendment which changed the words, “the external appearance of the existing single-family dwelling” to “the external appearance as a single-family dwelling.” Boivin suggested that this amendment would give greater flexibility to all parties involved. Additionally, an amendment changing the “by-right” date from November 2019 to January 2020 was also successful. Ultimately, the motion under Article 14 passed by a vote of 136-4.

CPDC Chair John Weston

CPDC chair John Weston began the presentation of the motion under Article 15 by thanking Town Meeting for its patience. “Zoning is complex, as you can tell by the time it takes.” Weston quipped. Article 15 asked Town Meeting to adjust the zoning bylaws, adding regulations for mixed-use development in commercial zones. The changes were designed to encourage mixed-use development, particularly on South Main Street. “We need to preserve [South Main Street] as a commercial district,” Weston commented. 

Weston highlighted several of the proposed changes including zero-foot setbacks on Main Street which are designed to move proposed buildings away from abutting residential areas, requiring twenty-five percent of a building to have commercial space, and a provision that residential components need to have ten percent of the units be considered affordable according to state guidelines. Town Meeting member Jonathan Barnes offered three amendments, all of which were approved, which give CPDC more flexibility to grant waivers if certain accommodations, such as charging stations, are provided by developers.

Jonathan Barnes, Precinct 5

Several Town Meeting members opined regarding zero-foot setbacks on Main Street. These setbacks would allow buildings to be built only one foot away from the town’s right-of-way, which on South Main Street, often is only one-foot wider the existing sidewalk. Town Meeting member Angela Binda expressed concerns about safety as well as aesthetics, citing buildings currently on South Main Street which have landscaping between the building and the sidewalk. She suggested that this would be a more attractive look as visitors drive into town. Town Meeting member Nancy Toomey countered, reminding Town Meeting that the town has little recourse if the space between the sidewalk and a building is not maintained by an owner. Town Meeting member Mary Ellen O’Neill suggested an amendment, which was accepted, changing the setback requirement for corner lots on Main Street from one foot to five feet due to concerns previously mentioned, as well as safety for vehicles turning out of the streets which intersect Main Street. After extensive discussion, Town Meeting voted 114-1 to approve the motion under Article 15. 

Mary Ellen O’Neill, Precinct 4

Town Meeting also voted 136-2 to approve the motion under Article 13 to change the definition of marijuana and hemp in zoning bylaw Section and align them with definitions recently adopted in state law.

Town Meeting adjourned at 11:05 pm and will reconvene on Monday, November 18 at 7:30 pm.

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