Reading, MA — Subsequent Town Meeting concluded its business after only one session on Monday. Included on the warrant was Article Seven which approved, by a vote of 165-4, $317,422,620 to rebuild the Northeast Vocational School in Wakefield. Reading’s share of these costs is estimated to be $4,548,660 after Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared that this would break down to between $200,000 and $250,000 annually for the length of the bond. Reading is one of twelve communities that send students to Northeast. Currently, 33 Reading students attend the school.
Northeast Superintendent David DiBarri reported that “the life of our building is coming to an end.” He then talked about failing systems, undersized shops and classrooms, and poor ADA accessibility. DiBarri also reported that the school turns away more than 500 applicants annually. The building update will include an expansion that would allow the school to accommodate 1,600 students, 400 more than just over 1,200 students currently enrolled. Project Manager Kevin Nigro explained that over forty options were explored before the current plan was adopted. Nigro continued, saying that the new building is expected to be completed in 2026.
Town Meeting voted 167-5 to accept Article Three amendments to the capital plan, including $150,000 to finalize plans for the first phase of the Birch Meadow Master Plan. Article four passed with a vote of 171-3 and approved $508,000 of budget changes. Originally this funding was to come from the town’s free cash reserves. Later in the session, Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom noted that the funding should have come from “new growth” instead, as this funding will be lost if not utilized. Town Meeting voted to reconsider its previous vote, then voted 114-4 to accept the change.
By a vote of 165-6, Town Meeting accepted changes to the bylaws, amending the triggers for Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) minor and major site plan review. CPDC member Tony D’Arezzo explained that some recent updates and expansions to businesses had “fallen through the cracks” of review. The amendments would help ensure that CPDC would be able to review changes in use for business properties in town.
Town Meeting voted 171-1 to approve the payment of a $52.19 bill from 2019. After much discussion, Article Eight, a citizen petition article to require Town Meeting member phone numbers and email addresses to be published, failed 19-147. Town Meeting member Vanessa Alvarado, who voted against the article, indicated that publication of her personal contact information has led to issues with spam and harassment at her home. Town Clerk Laura Gemme confirmed that if the town has access to personal information, it is considered public information and can be requested. Town Council Ivria Fried affirmed this assertion.
Article Nine was another citizen petition seeking to halt approval of all new 40R developments in the downtown until new zoning bylaws on the Smart Growth district can be adopted. Petitioner David Talbot gave a presentation indicating his distaste for the density and lot coverage of some recent developments. “We need to make a downtown with open spaces.” Talbot indicated. He also expressed concern over parking near some of the new developments, “A pause makes sense to understand downtown parking issues,” Talbot declared.
Fried shared the opinion that any vote by Town Meeting on the issue would have “no legal effect on the CPDC or the building commissioner” as a halt on approvals had not gone through the proper public process. CPDC member Heather Clish shared the timeline for the requested bylaw amendments, suggesting that they could be ready for April Town Meeting. The process outlined by Clish includes a public hearing on the issue scheduled for December 6. Clish also shared that the 40R bylaw has added 96 affordable housing units to the inventory and has added $957,000 in new growth to the tax base.
Town Meeting member Barry Berman suggested that any vote on a delay would send a negative message to developers that Reading is “not open for business.” Member John Arena moved that the article be indefinitely postponed. This postponement was passed by a vote of 95-49.
Two instructional motions under Article two failed to pass. The first, to ask the Town Clerk to provide a mechanism for residents to contact Town Meeting members, failed by a vote of 37-101. Member Paul Sylvester suggested the motion was just a rehash of the already-failed Article eight. The second instructional motion, to approve the hanging of flower baskets in the downtown, failed by a vote of 46-87. Member Alicia Williams expressed concern over the Department of Public Works’ expense to maintain the flowers.
Four instructional motions were left undiscussed as Town Meeting voted to adjourn sine die at 11:50 pm.