Downtown Economic Development Focus of Community Meeting

Engineering Firm Weston & Sampson Moving to 55 Walkers Brook Drive

“Thoughtful, directed, managed growth” is how Select Board Vice-Chair Barry Berman described Reading as he opened the Downtown Economic Development community meeting on October 17. Berman highlighted the three guiding principles for the town’s plan for development: maintain what is here, strengthen the downtown, and maximize opportunities. He also pointed to recent successes, including achieving the state’s mandated ten percent affordable housing mandate, expanding the 40R district in the downtown, and putting projects in the right places which have allowed for 200 new units in the downtown to already be permitted. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur also noted to the assembled group that he has been informed that the engineering firm Weston & Sampson will be occupying the space at 55 Walkers Brook Drive vacated by Keurig.

Parking consultant Matt Smith shared the results of the 2018 downtown parking study. Reading has 3,400 spaces in the downtown with 1,400 on the street and 2,000 in off-street parking lots. During the 10:30-12:30 window, only about 45 percent of the spaces are actually filled, however during the 12:30-2:30 time period 95 percent of Main Street parking is used. Smith reported that downtown Reading has available parking at almost all times of the day. At issue is helping people find the parking as well as changing attitudes about needing to park directly in front of the business one is visiting. Smith made several recommendations including increasing parking time limits, expanding the employee parking permit program, and increasing parking information. He also indicated that improving parking signage and wayfinding would help direct shoppers to areas with available spaces and that dedicated spaces for ride-sharing services may help bring people to downtown. As a longer-term solution, Smith recommended that traffic patterns be analyzed and improved, also finding a way to increase parking supply, possibly through changing how on-street spaces are arranged.

Economic Development Liaison Jessie Wyman presented the results of the $15,000 Wayfinding and Branding grant received in 2016. Wyman showed a series of updated signage that will soon be utilized downtown to direct people to parking and other amenities. The signs have been designed to be distinctive and noticeable to residents and visitors alike. Community Development Director Julie Mercier updated the participants on the status of the five downtown projects that are permitted or underway and discussed the idea of creating a downtown management team.

After the presentations, Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios facilitated a half-hour long feedback session where participants were divided into groups and asked to discuss a series of questions, then provide responses. Included in the ideas generated were: improving traffic flow into the parking lot behind CVS, coordination of traffic signal management at peak and non-peak hours, and development of shuttle services from Walkers Brook Drive to the downtown. Town staff will review all the ideas generated to develop future strategic plans.

The meeting adjourned 9:15 pm.

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