Reading, MA — Through a series of four different votes, three of which were unanimous, 16 new parking regulations for the downtown area were approved by the Select Board on Monday. These new regulations were a result of more than a year of work on the part of the Parking Advisory and Recommendation Committee (PARC) and are intended to create additional turnover in the “inner core” of downtown by incentivizing employees to park in the “outer core” of the downtown. Many areas will now have standardized regulations, and paid kiosks will soon be installed in the municipal parking lots. The Select Board established PARC to be a group of town officials, residents, and business owners charged with studying issues related to parking in the downtown and proposing possible solutions to the challenges faced with parking in the area.
The new regulations will increase the number of employee spaces from 123 to 236 by utilizing spaces in the “outer core” on Lowell Street, Woburn Street, High Street, Chute Street, Vine Street, and a few other streets by designating most spaces as all-day spaces with an employee permit, or two-hour spaces without a permit. The approved regulations retain the current on-street resident spaces north of the train tracks and add nine resident spaces on lower Sanborn Street.
Most of the discussion revolved around the installation of kiosks in the two downtown municipal parking lots, the “upper” lot behind the CVS and the “Brande Court” lot on Haven Street. These kiosks will charge persons parking in the lots if they park for more than one hour. Rates are to be determined. On Monday, Town Meeting approved the funding for the kiosks. All on-street parking is to remain free of charge.
Select Board member Carlo Bacci, while stating that he is not opposed to kiosks, suggested that the board wait six months to evaluate the effect of the other parking regulations and increased enforcement before installing the kiosks. Bacci also argued that the six months would give time for an aggressive informational and training campaign to inform citizens about the change. Select Board member Jackie McCarthy agreed that the kiosks could help the turnover issue and indicated that she shared concerns that some business owners had expressed about customers potentially having to pay for parking. Select Board chair Mark Dockser stated that the kiosks were an essential piece of the PARC recommendations and that he is “not comfortable taking half a step.”
After continued discussion, the board voted 3-1-1 to adopt the kiosks. Bacci was the dissenting vote. Select Board member Chris Haley abstained due to a possible conflict of interest as he is a property owner near one of the lots. Development Director Julie Mercier reported that installation of the kiosks could take several months.
Oakland Road & Symonds Way
In other business, Town Manager Fidel Maltez presented conceptual ideas to the Select Board regarding the town-owned land on Oakland Road and on Symonds Way. On Oakland Road, Maltez suggests a partnership with the Reading Housing Authority to develop age-restricted affordable senior housing units, similar to those developed at Lynnfield’s Colonial Village. Maltez added that surveys needed to be done on the property to determine how many units could be built on the four-acre property. Dockser referred to the idea as “intriguing” and mentioned that some topographical work was done on the property in 2014 that should be consulted.
Maltez also shared that 2.79 acres of the 15 acres of land purchased three years ago on Symonds Way has been deemed buildable. The results of the full survey and environmental assessment of the property are due in June. Maltez shared a conceptual plan which he referred to as “undercooked,” showing that a building with a 30,000 square foot footprint could be constructed on the site with adequate parking and not disturb the wetlands. For comparison, this is approximately the size of the Burbank Ice Arena adjacent to the property. Maltez continued sharing that the property could be used for a building, a sports bubble, or for fields and courts. He recommends that the property be used for recreational purposes to match that of the nearby Burbank Arena and has a low impact on abutters.
Dockser showed interest in Maltez’s ideas and mentioned that they could be parallel with the work now being done to determine the community need for a senior/community center mix. Bacci stated that he has been waiting for two years for progress on using the site and that he is “all for a public/private partnership” to see something done with the land.
Half & Half Cafe Liquor License
The Select Board voted 5-0 to approve an annual all-liquor license for the Half & Half Cafe, soon to open at 607 Main Street. The cafe will be owned and managed by Shanker Krishnamoorthy, who owns the adjacent Zucca Italian restaurant. The plan is for a breakfast and lunch establishment that may later expand to dinner options. Dockser did express some concern over the serving of alcohol at lunchtime and asked Krishnamoorthy for continued vigilance.
“Thank you for investing in Reading; I wish you the best of luck.” Select Board member Karen Herrick affirmed.
The Select Board also voted 5-0 to make an Arbor Day Proclamation. The board made plans to re-institute monthly office hours to allow the public to express concerns to members of the board one-on-one.
The Select Board adjourned to executive session at 9:15 pm.