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As summer fades but the downtown parking dilemma comes “front and center” again, it is important to better understand what happened with the raising and dismantling of the Venetian Moon tent on the cobblestone parking area in the square:
Background: I have been a business owner in the square for over twenty years. Several years ago, when the Cavallo family (owners of the Venetian Moon) was renovating the restaurant basement, I as a helpful “good neighbor” temporarily and voluntarily gave up my leased back lot parking space to accommodate their construction dumpster. What was promised to be a 3-month inconvenience stretched into 5 months and beyond with Venetian Moon owners and delivery men continuing to use my space, without so much as a thank you from the Cavallo family. Eventually, I stopped them from using my parking space and, since then, I have not felt comfortable communicating with the Cavallo family. This did not excuse their failure to notify me and others regarding the closure of the parking lot and the erection of a tent.
Notification miscommunication and flawed process: I reasonably expected that, like other small businesses in the square, the Town would follow due process before implementing any changes that would affect my livelihood. Emails involving key Town employees, the Police Chief, Lisa Egan (Chamber of Commerce) and Venetian Moon’s Lisa Cavallo illustrate otherwise.
June 3, 2020 – Email Chain Erin Schaeffer (Economic Development Director) to Lisa Cavallo (Venetian Moon) referencing Lisa Egan (Chamber of Commerce):
Schaeffer – “Please make sure to reach out to the manager of the CVS and the vet as well”’
Lisa Cavallo – “So, between us three gals, I am not going into the vet to speak to her…its (sp) not worth me speaking to her…she will not be on board.”
Schaeffer – “No problem” adding “Our goal is to notify abutters and allow abutters to express any concerns but also to not delay.”
Schaeffer then suggested Lisa Cavallo write a letter to me. That did not happen.
June 11, 2020 – Schaefer pressed Lisa Cavallo,“We cannot close the public parking lot until we hear from your commercial neighbors in writing. This is really important. Please reach out to request letters of support from the neighbors in your block that are adjacent to the cobblestone parking lot.”
I received no letter from Venetian Moon and, contrary to Schaeffer’s request of Cavallo, there were no letters of support from nearly half the businesses on the block. Still, there was no delay in the Tent approval process.
June 15, 2020 – Email from Police Chief Clark to numerous involved parties, “I do not see the veterinary place has signed off nor has Reading Trophy, this impacts their parking significantly. I will need to see that they have agreed to this prior to signing off.” How could he sign off without us agreeing?
In subsequently emails, Town employees Jean Delios and Erin Schaeffer “brainstorm” and determine among themselves that the municipal parking lot in the rear is a “reasonable alternative to the use of the cobblestone area” for cars.
When I finally became aware of the plans to erect the tent on public property and raised questions, I was vilified by Town employees and members of the public, armed with misinformation. Apparently, according to emails, I unknowingly became a threat to a larger Town plan: a $50,000 grant to study the creation of a piazza on the cobblestone parking area.
Changes going forward: The timeliness in Venetian Moon’s proposal to erect a tent on public property took precedent ahead of Town mandated protocols of notification. Because it was perceived I would oppose the Venetian Moon plan and not work with the Town, I and others who clearly would be directly affected by the parking limitations were kept in the dark into the last minute. The pandemic does not excuse the Town’s role in selective notification of abutters. The latest downtown parking plans (aired at the Select Board September 22 meeting) indicate that the failure to involve affected residents and businesses continues.
There appears to have been favoritism emanating from Town Hall, an embracing of new business and development at the expense of loyal longtime business people and residents who have contributed to the fabric of Reading, making it a community that already has attracted so many new families.
As a Select Board, you are in a position to steer Reading back to a community that embraces input and opinions from those affected by proposed changes and incorporates those suggestions. Transparency is extremely important if you truly want support for change. That did not happen with the Venetian Moon tent debacle.
Vilifying “the vet” and the character assassination that I have now experienced for raising legitimate questions about closing the parking lot is not acceptable. I am requesting a formal apology for how I and others were treated. Your role as Select Board should be to prevent and mitigate divisiveness, not heighten it, and a formal apology would be a good start.
Jane Harrison, DVM
Middlesex Animal Hospital, PC 668 Main St.
Reading MA 01867