CPDC Approves Parking Changes at Postmark

Reading, MA — By a 5-0 vote, the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC)  approved major plan changes to the parking garage at 136 Haven Street, known as the Postmark building. Attorney Brian McGrail, speaking for the building owners, shared that the initial parking plans had to change due to issues encountered during construction, including the placement of the foundation of the old post office building as well as ledge discovered on the site. According to McGrail, while many spaces in the building have a width that is greater than required, several are smaller than initially anticipated. The approved plan will reduce the number of spaces from seventy-two to seventy in the garage to allow for few spaces to be widened. “We cannot make more space [in the garage],” McGrail commented. The reduced number of spaces still exceeds the required 1.25 spaces per unit.

Several condominium owners in the building expressed frustration over the size of the spaces they had purchased and the amount of time it has taken to resolve their issues.  After discussion, CPDC chose to condition their approval of the proposed major plan changes on the developer, providing a written agreement with one building occupant whose purchased space is narrower than anticipated and cannot be adapted in the new scheme.

459 Main Street

CPDC also reopened the public hearing on a proposed development at 459 Main Street, currently the site of 128 Tire. The 21,864 square foot proposed building would house 1,471 square feet of retail space on the first floor with four one-bedroom units, seven two-bedroom units, and one three-bedroom unit on the upper three floors. The plans also include a nineteen-space parking garage on the first level.

Attorney Jesse Schomer, speaking for applicant G.C. Fodera Contracting, shared that “significant revisions” had been made to the project after CPDC and abutter input at the March 14 hearing. These changes include sloping the ground floor garage wall from thirteen feet to nine feet on the east property line, modifications to the southeast corner of the building to allow for better sightlines from an abutting driveway, and a further stepped back fourth floor.

Architect Jeffrey Olinger explained in further detail that the second floor now has a fifteen-foot setback from the east property line and the fourth floor has a twenty-foot setback. CPDC Associate member Tony D’Arezzo asked the development team to justify the need for a density waiver for the project. The current plan is for forty-eight units per acre. Olinger responded, “A site like this is why 40R was created,” Olinger continued, citing the short walking distance to the depot and a location on a primary commercial street. “It will be the crown jewel of your 40R district,” Olinger suggested. “It will fill out the development of the block.”

Olinger also suggested that traffic flow at the adjacent intersection of Main Street and Washington Street is a pre-existing condition. The traffic study concludes that traffic will continue to worsen in the intersection regardless of whether or not the building is built. Olinger continued, suggesting the adjacent building at 475 Main Street be the design precedent in regards to density. “[Our proposal] is less dense than 475 Main Street next door,” Olinger concluded.

Abutter Bruce Johnson shared continued concerns over the height of the proposed building, the density of the massing, and the setbacks from his property. Johnson pointed out that the first, second, third, and fourth-floor setbacks at 475 Main Street are more significant than what is proposed for 459 Main Street. CPDC member Heather Clish also expressed concern over the east property line setback, given the proposed building is in a transition zone as defined by the design guidelines. “It’s part of the challenge of designing a building on this site,” Clish suggested. Schomer answered, stating that the building had been designed with those criteria in mind.

“We consider ourselves as complying with [the guidelines],” Schomer shared.

When pressed by CPDC member Nick Safina about what would need to happen to move the east-facing wall fifteen feet from the property line, Olinger answered, stating that the indoor parking would be substituted for outdoor parking. He added that sheltered parking is better for water runoff and aesthetics. As the conversation closed, Safina and Clish expressed that they remained unconvinced that the developer had answered all their questions.

CPDC continued the public hearing to May 16 at 8:00 pm.

CPDC also voted 5-0 to approve a certificate of appropriateness for a change to the sign on the Verizon building at 17 Linden Street. CPDC adjourned at 11:40 pm.

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