Select Board Postpones Downtown Parking Vote

Reading, MA — After a two and a half-hour discussion, the Select Board chose not to vote on the bulk of the recommendations for changes to downtown parking regulations until further questions can be answered and further input can be sought from abutters. The basis for the plan, presented by Community Development Director Julie Mercier, was first discussed in October of 2019 and was refined in presentations to the board in January and August of this year.

Community Development Director Julie Mercier

Mercier described a plan which divides the downtown area into two zones, the “inner core” and the “outer core.” Under the proposal, all inner core parking spaces would be transformed to thirty minutes or two-hour only spaces, and leased spaces would be eliminated. Both the “Brande Court” lot and the “CVS” lot would have kiosk parking with payments needed after thirty minutes of parking. There would be no change to the “resident only” areas and there would be no employee “all-day” parking in public spaces in the inner core. 

To compensate, streets in the outer core would be transformed into two-hour parking or all-day employee parking with a parking permit. Residents of these streets would be able to acquire employee permits that would allow them to continue to park on the streets adjoining their property. One hundred and eighty employee spaces would be added with the adoption of this plan. Employers can receive five permits for free, and pay for additional permits. Mercier admitted, “We cannot please everyone” but committed to “continue to assess and make changes if needed.”

Parking consultant Matt Smith, from Nelson/Nygaard, reminded the board that the majority of employees downtown do not park on the streets, but park in privately owned lots. He also suggested that kiosks aid in the enforcement of parking regulations. “It is time and staff intensive to manage timed parking without [kiosks].” Smith shared.

Several residents from Sanborn Street and Linden Street spoke to the board, questioning what they saw as the lack of notification of the changes that directly affect them. They also questioned the plan in general. “To force employees on these streets is an unfair burden on the residents.” Resident Rob Skinner declared. “To us, downtown parking is on the other side of Woburn Street” Resident Karen Rose-Gillis continued. Resident David Talbot pointed out that changing these streets to only allow parking on one side of the street would adversely affect residents as well. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Egan also expressed concerns about the “perceived hindrance” of paid parking in the downtown parking lots.

Notification seemed to be the primary issue for members of the board. Select Board member Karen Gately Herrick stated “When we are going to do something that is going to affect property owners, we need to notify them.” Member Anne Landry concurred. “I’m sensitive that actual notice was not given to residents.” She stated. Mercier reported that information had been placed in water bills earlier this year, and text notifications were sent on August 20 and on Monday night. Chair Mark Dockser stated an understanding of the board’s concerns but cautioned about “kicking this down the road.”

“If we don’t take some action, [the parking problems downtown] will continue.” Dockser opined.

The board requested further information on the initial and annual costs for kiosks, how enforcement would work, a data usage policy, and how the changes could affect outlying neighborhoods. They also asked that proper notification be given to residents before the next public hearing. Dockser shared that the “path forward” is to add a Select Board meeting just for this topic on October 13, if answers to questions can be assembled by that time.

The board did vote 5-0 on one part of the package, the elimination of the leasing program, freeing up fifty-eight spots on High Street, Brande Court, and in the Harnden Yard parking area.

The board also voted 5-0 to close the November Town Meeting warrant. Included on the warrant are several articles that were postponed from June. Article 12, sponsored by the Select Board, asks the town to adopt the stretch code for new development. The stretch code establishes minimum design and construction requirements for energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings. Article 13 would allow the Select Board to accept the donation of a thirteen-acre parcel of land that is intended for conservation purposes.

By a vote of 5-0, the Select Board appointed Dr. Richard Lopez as a full member of the Board of Health and Geri Cramer as an associate member. It also voted 5-0 to appoint Cynthia Hartman to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Select Board adjourned at 11:45 pm.
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