Reading, MA — Main Street in Reading’s downtown could be the site for another 40R development. ACG RE Reading, LLC is proposing a four-story, nineteen-unit apartment building with a 1,078 square foot commercial space at 531 Main Street, the site formerly occupied by the Daily Times Chronicle.
The proposed new building, named “The Chronicle,” would fill the 5,699 square foot lot and provide both one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Five of these units would be considered “affordable” with four set-asides as “workforce” units, designed to be occupied by “essential” workers. The proposed building would also have twenty-four garaged parking spaces beneath the building, utilizing an innovative “City Lift” system. Attorney Chris Latham, speaking for the developer, stated, “We are taking an underutilized building and providing nineteen residential units.”
The building currently on the site was built in 1929 and housed an automobile business before becoming the home of the Chronicle. It has been vacant since the paper moved its operations to Woburn a few years ago. Because of the paper’s presence for so many years, the building is on the town’s historic building inventory and would be subject to a six-month waiting period before being razed. Jonathan Barnes, speaking for the Historic Commission, shared with the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) that the developer plans street-level displays commemorating the site’s historic use.
Several members of the CPDC critiqued the proposed building during their July 13 meeting. CPDC member Heather Clish expressed concern over the Main Street facade of the building, which proposes a commercial space eight feet above street level and has a significant blank wall space at street level, though project architect Rob Paccione shared that the proposed historical display would be affixed on the wall. Member Rachel Hitch continued a concern that although the project is just under the 300 foot required distance from the Ash Street parking area, that area is already often filled and that a parking plan for the commercial space needs to be developed. Member Pamela Adrian asked about the loss of the courtyard space and the maple trees that currently reside there.
CPDC chair John Weston shared that building height was his greatest concern The current proposal is for a building that is fifty-seven feet high, with the elevator shaft extending even higher. This greatly exceeds the current forty-five-foot limit stated in the bylaws. “I’m not even on the same planet as this.” Weston declared. Member Nick Safina concurred while listing other concerns with the proposal, including the shared residential and commercial entrance on Main Street, the small lobby, the use of stucco exterior, and the high density of the project. “The site is too small to mitigate the number of units,” Safina stated.
Safina suggested that height could be saved by the elimination of the proposed roof decks. He also hinted that the size of the commercial space could be negotiated, if one story was removed from the building. Hitch suggested that the current configuration of the commercial space could remain if the courtyard were retained, if not, the commercial space, in her opinion, needs to be on street level.
After this input, project developer Saverio Fulciniti thanked the members for their input and stressed the need for the size of the building if the “public benefit” of the affordable units are to remain in the plans. “We are going back to the drawing board and adjust.” Fulciniti shared. Weston indicated his understanding, “We are interested in affordable units.” He stated. “But there is a trade-off.”
The public hearing was continued to August 10 at 8:00 pm.
CPDC also voted 5-0 to retain John Weston as chair and voted 5-0 to appoint Adrian as secretary.
CPDC adjourned at 10:15 pm.