Select Board Hear Public Discussion on Downtown Parking

Reading, MA — Parking in Reading’s downtown was again the Select Board’s focus on February 4. The board hosted a public hearing to listen to opinions and questions from business owners and community members regarding proposed changes to the parking structure in the area. 

The proposed changes, presented by Community Development Director Julie Mercier for the Parking Traffic Transportation Task Force, include two-hour or thirty-minute parking in the “inner core” bounded by Woburn Street, Main Street, and High Street, expanded employee parking in the “outer core” which is two to three blocks out from the “inner core,” and kiosk parking in the two public parking lots in the area. The hope is that these changes will simplify regulations downtown and will provide incentives for employees to park a little further away, opening spaces for shoppers and clients of downtown businesses. Mercier commented that the downtown has “over two dozen” different regulations in different areas right now. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur commented, “We need to come up with a simple system.”

Much of the discussion from members of the public centered around the possibility of kiosk parking in the two lots. Business owner Nick Kasden expressed concern that kiosks in the Brande Court lot would encourage commuters to park there instead of the commuter lots. Mercier suggested that the price point for parking in that lot all day would discourage the practice. Jennifer Driscoll suggested that kiosks were not needed in the Brande Court lot as the current system seems to work well for her customers. Lisa Egan wondered if having to pay to park in the lots would discourage patrons from even coming to Reading’s downtown as none of the surrounding towns use metered parking. Egan also encouraged the board to continue to reach out to the business community, possibly with a daytime public meeting. Egan summarized the issue with trying to meet the needs of all downtown businesses. “I love that I can park all day in front of my business.” Egan stated, “but [the business next door] probably is not happy that I take up a space in front of his shop all day.”

Concern was also expressed by residents about changing the parking to two-hour parking in front of their homes. Mercier indicated it was likely that regulations would be crafted in such a way as to minimize the impact on residents, though they still might need to move their cars during the afternoon. One residence on Gould Street that has no off-street parking would retain the ability to park in front of their home. A few Woburn Street residents asked about striping to help homeowners with cars that crowd their driveways. “Sometimes you just cannot get out safely.” Woburn Street resident Tom Quintal described. Third generation Linden Street resident Donna Moore suggested that her street worked fine as is, “Leave Linden Street alone – it’s fine.” Moore stated.

After this input Select Board member John Halsey suggested that maybe there was a step in the middle for the parking lots. “We can scale back to two-hour and see how it goes,” Halsey suggested. Select Board chair Vanessa Alvarado wondered how these changes could affect neighborhoods south of the train tracks and were concerned that kiosks would discourage customers of downtown businesses. Select Board member Mark Dockser suggested contacting owners of private spaces and lots encouraging them to rent or lease them to employees. “Whatever we do is not going to be perfect, but we will do our best,” Dockser commented. The public hearing on downtown parking was continued to March 17 at 8:00 pm.

The Select Board voted 5-0 to retain a stop sign at the corner of Pine Ridge Road and Oak Street that was placed there during reconstruction on West Street. It also voted to remove overnight parking at the Pleasant Street Center and in the Brande Court Lot and to restrict the Pleasant Street Center lot to patrons of the center only. All three of these changes were requested by the police department and were described by Lieutenant Christine Amendola as safety concerns.

Library Director Amy Lannon and Town Clerk Laura Gemme, representing the Complete Count Committee, reported to the board regarding the local census and the upcoming decennial national census. The Select Board voted 5-0 to close the warrant for both of the March 3 elections and for April Town Meeting. The board also had a brief discussion regarding the Fiscal Year 2021 municipal budget.

The Select Board adjourned to executive session at 10:40 pm.

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