Kraunelis Addresses the Issues

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Reading, MA — New Town Manager Matt Kraunelis certainly is no stranger to Reading. Kraunelis has served the town for the past nine years, first as the Director of Administrative Services and next as the Assistant Town Manager. He was chosen by the Select Board to be the Acting Town Manager in December when former Town Manager Fidel Maltez moved on to Chelsea, then was selected as Reading’s fourth Town Manager on February 17.

Kraunelis, who has a Doctor of Law degree, worked for the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations and also served as the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Methuen prior to his time in Reading. He shared that he likes to spend his free time with his family and working on arts projects such as a creative placemaking group and a poetry group, as well as being involved in activities like writing, fishing, and playing golf. Kraunelis has also been a part of an artistic waterfall lighting project in his hometown of Methuen.

“Any creative outlet is great to have,” Kraunelis suggested.

MBTA Communities

Town Manager Matt Kraunelis and Sherri VandenAkker

Kraunelis recently sat down with RCTV’s Sherri VandenAkker for a conversation about issues in town, starting with Reading’s progress regarding the MBTA Communities legislation. He explained that MBTA Communities is a law that was passed in 2021 to help create more housing in communities in the Commonwealth, especially the 150 communities with or next to an MBTA connection. The law requires that communities provide zoning districts that allow multifamily housing by rite in certain areas. “[The state] wants housing around public transportation,” Kraunelis noted. Reading’s deadline to approve a new zoning is the end of the year.

To accomplish this goal, town staff has created several options that have received extensive public input. Kraunelis indicated that the original plan was to bring a proposal to Town Meeting in April, but after significant community input, it was determined that the plans needed more thought. Thus, the hope now is that the new zoning regulations will be ready for a Town Meeting vote in November.

Kraunelis also indicated that he does not want Reading to follow the path of Milton, whose Town Meeting passed new zoning, but the voters rejected the plans in a referendum vote. He shared that the state is now suing Milton for this action. 

There will be an update on the progress of MBTA Communities by Community Development Director Andrew MacNichol at April Town Meeting.

Killam Elementary Project & Senior Center

Kraunelis then switched gears, sharing about the building project proposals that are underway in town, notably Killam Elementary School, and plans for a new senior or community center. He highlighted the potential benefits of these projects, stating that plans for Killam, which has not had an update since being built in 1969, “are moving pretty quickly.” The town was accepted into the first round of the Massachusetts School Building Authority approval process and has hired an owner’s project manager and architect for the project. 

While specific plans are “coming soon,” Kraunelis reminded VandenAkker that the decision between renovating the current school or building a new building has not yet been made. He also noted that renovation is not necessarily less expensive than new construction. Ultimate approval for the project will be determined by the voters as to whether or not to approve a debt exclusion for the project. He also stated that the Reading Memorial High School and Wood End Elementary School debt will be retired this fiscal year and that the debt for the renovation of the Reading Public Library will be retired next fiscal year.

Three possible sites for a new senior or community center have been identified. They include Oakland Road, Symonds Way, and adding on to the current Pleasant Street Center. According to Kraunelis, the feasibility study that is underway has shown that each choice has both positive as well as less desirable attributes. Cost estimates for projects in all three locations could be as high as $30 million “on the high end.”

“Voters will have a big say on both projects,” Kraunelis added.

Community Preservation Act & Green Communities

VandenAkker also inquired about the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and the Green Communities initiative. Kraunelis shared that the CPA is a proposal that could add up to 3% to the town’s tax bills to provide funds for environmental, historic, or recreation projects. “[The CPA] is a handy tool,” Kraunelis suggested. Any funds collected by the town could be matched by the state as well.

“It is a good law that has worked in many places,” Kraunelis added.

The Select Board has created an ad-hoc CPA study committee to advise the board on what the town might want to do. If the Select Board determines that it wants to enact the CPA, it will need to be approved by Town Meeting and then put to a town-wide vote. “It’s up to the voters, and it should be,” Kraunelis concluded.

Kraunelis also stated that he hopes Reading’s entry into the Green Communities program will be done by June. The town had to wait for the legislature to amend the law allowing communities with municipal light departments to participate in the program. Once the governor signed the new law, the town then had to wait for new regulations to be created.

VandenAkkers’ conversation with Town Manager Matt Kraunelis can be viewed on RCTV’s YouTube channel.

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