Lincoln/Prescott Changes Deemed “Insubstantial” by ZBA

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted 4-1 on January 15, determining that changes in the building position for the Lincoln Street/Prescott Street development are insubstantial. This ruling approves the changes and allows for the project to continue. Developer Matthew Zuker sent a letter to the ZBA on January 7 requesting the determination after a review of the as-built plans revealed changes from the plans approved by ZBA last year. Concern was expressed over how the changes were missed in the permitting process and why the as-built plans took so long to acquire. Zuker shared that the as-built plans match the plans presented at the time of permitting, “We went through a thorough process with the town.” Zuker commented. He also blamed the delay in creating the as-built plans on changes in the surveyor for the project.

The building on the site is 1.1 feet closer to the lot line on the Prescott Street side than originally planned, while it is 2.5 feet closer on the Lincoln Street side. Balconies on the Prescott Street side also extend over the sidewalk. Zuker explained that the changes occurred due to building code requirements that required more room for egress on the southeast edge of the building. Zuker also explained that the building does not intrude on the public right-of-way and that the sidewalks are not changed in any way. The building footprint is identical to what was agreed upon and is framed and mostly weathertight according to Zuker.

Attorney Chris Eaton from Town Counsel’s office shared that changes in 40B projects are ordinary and common. Eaton also mentioned that setback changes are not on Mass Housing’s lists of examples of what changes are substantial and insubstantial, though changes in the examples that are listed often set a ten-percent change as a benchmark. Mass Housing has oversight of all 40B projects in the state. Board member Robert Redfern noted that Prescott Street change is 15.9% while the Lincoln Street change is 43%.

Several residents urged the ZBA to declare the changes substantial so that a public hearing can be held on the issue. Resident Everett Blodgett expressed concern regarding the walkability of the sidewalks in the area and concerns for snow removal. Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado suggested that future projects could be affected. “We can set the precedent that Reading enforces zoning decisions.” Alvarado declared. Select Board member Barry Berman shared apprehensions over sight lines around the building in its new position and suggested that the extra time a public hearing would create allowed the town to investigate the concern. The developer then informed the board that the new building has a greater setback from the sidewalk than its predecessors, the storage facility and the Certainly Woods building, so sight lines should not be an issue. When the motion was made to declare the changes insubstantial, Redfern was the only dissenting vote.

Attorney Steven Cicatelli, representing Meadowbrook Golf Club abutter Nicholas Bonanno, appeared before the ZBA appealing the Community Planning and Development Commission’s (CPDC) Site Plan Review decision regarding the razing and reconstruction of the clubhouse on the property. When Chair John Jarema initially expressed confusion as to why the issue was before the ZBA, Cicatelli referred to a zoning bylaw that refers to ZBA as a local appeals board. He stated that action had also been filed in Superior Court, but that the court would insist that all local options be exhausted before moving forward.

Cicatelli argued that the CPDC did not have jurisdiction over the site plan process due to his client’s belief that the new club would create an impermissible expansion of use, which would require ZBA approval. Bonanno believes that there will be an increase in outdoor events due to the larger deck and patio area of the new club. Cicatelli argued that CPDC and Town Counsel made its determinations based on facts regarding usage that were not represented accurately to either party. After listening to both sides, Jarema expressed the opinion that these seemed to him to be enforcement issues and do not fall under ZBA’s jurisdiction. ZBA voted 5-0 to affirm the CPDC Site Plan Review decision as written.

CPDC adjourned at 9:40 pm.


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