In July, we saw issues regarding the controversial Venetian Moon tent come to a head, as local businesses affected by parking loss demanded that the tent come down. In the background of this fight, the Board of Registrars moved to accept the recall affidavit, propelling the town toward the eventual recall election that would dominate conversation in the fall. This is also the month that Reading’s Boys was first introduced to The Reading Post, when calls for greater conversations surrounding racial justice reached the School Committee, and when local musicians fought to keep PorchFest alive in the face of the pandemic.
Born out of Reading 375 celebrations last year, PorchFest sought to bring live music to the town of Reading in the form of miniature concerts being performed on resident’s porches. With the coronavirus pandemic shuttering many other live events and concerts over the summer, it was essential to PorchFest’s organizers that they still kept the spirit of the event alive, even as we had to socially-distance.
“For obvious reasons, [the event that was originally planned] could not happen, but the musicians wanted to keep the momentum going until that time when we can return to live audiences. Instead, this year, PorchFest will be presented on RCTV and Facebook streaming, all over the 4th of July weekend. The show, split into two pieces – one on Friday and one on Saturday – will liven up this unusual Independence Day. Throw on your television, computer, or phone as 18 local acts entertain you throughout the afternoon and evening,” reported The Reading Post.
The event featured performances from local bands and solo acts.
We started the month off with the introduction of reporter Autumn Hendrickson’s project to research the lives of Reading residents who fought or served during World War II.
“This summer is a very empty summer for many people, with everything that is now going on in the world. So I decided that perhaps, I could help the Town of Reading fill it by sending us on a journey: a journey through time. I wanted to give us all an opportunity to step into the shoes and skin of the young men of Reading who fought in the Second World War, who may have lived on your street (and probably did), who walked the hallways of your schools, who worked and raised their families in your town” wrote Hendrickson, introducing the idea behind the project.
By a 3-0 vote, the Board of Registrars accepted the affidavit calling for the recall of Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado, officially moving the September 1st recall election forward.
“After a moment decrying the state of increasingly divided partisan politics in town, Board Member Harry Simmons stated, ‘I find [the affidavit] was done according to the charter and that the town clerk did her job affixing the seal. I believe the petitioners made their case’” reported Kevin Vendt.
On July 10th, the School Committee voted to re-elect committee member Chuck Robinson to be the committee’s chairman. The committee also voted 6-0 to re-elect member Thomas Wise as vice-chair. Also discussed at the meeting were measures that the School Committee could take to understand biases within Reading’s school system and correct them.
“The committee voted 6-0 to accept a Massachusetts Association of School Committees Anti-Racism Resolution. The resolution included language committing the committee to examine policies for institutional and systemic racialized practices, incorporating the history of racial oppression into the curriculum, providing readings from diverse perspectives, and not remaining silent on racism and hate issues. The resolution will be forwarded to the governor, legislative leaders, and members of Reading’s legislative delegation,” reported Kevin Vendt.
On July 15th, the Select Board met to address Venetian Moon’s outdoor dining tent’s continuing issues.
“The Board has come under criticism for closing the parking area, which also services several other businesses, without notice to those businesses. The board’s policy for outdoor dining applications called for the applicant to inform abutters of any possible changes. While Venetian Moon informed adjacent neighbors, others further down the street were unaware of the coming closing,” reported Kevin Vendt.
Although no concrete conclusion regarding Venetian Moon’s dining tent’s current state was reached at this meeting, the Board voted to give the town greater control over how information regarding potential outdoor dining applications is spread.
“The board did vote 5-0 to amend its policy to require the town to notify abutters when an outdoor dining application has been made, rather than relying on business owners to do so,” reported Vendt.
In a July 16th meeting, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-0 to allow Stonegate Construction to build 21 parking spaces at 259 Main Street. This was an amendment of a special permit the Board gave to the company on October 2nd, 2019, which initially only allowed for 12 parking spaces.
“According to Attorney Josh Latham, speaking for Stonegate, the additional spaces were needed as a result of the ‘rigorous process’ the development had been through with the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) and the Conservation Commission (ConsCom). As a result of those hearings, the proposed twenty-four unit building now has a decreased footprint from the original plan. This led to a smaller parking garage underneath the building and requires more outside parking to meet zoning standards. The new plan also calls for the building to have an additional story than originally proposed,” reported Kevin Vendt.
Construction of the project would begin once the CPDC and ConsCom finished their hearings.
“It is anticipated that the project’s construction will take between twelve and eighteen months,” reported Vendt.
In a July 21st meeting, the Select Board voted 3-2 to have Venetian Moon remove its outdoor dining tent by August 17th.
“The issue arose when several Main Street businesses, who use the town-owned parking area where the tent is located, complained that their businesses were being adversely affected by the closed lot,” reported Kevin Vendt.
Although the Select Board offered to create smaller outdoor dining “parklets” for Venetian Moon along Woburn Street and Main Street’s sidewalks as compensation for removing their large, outdoor tent, the business ultimately declined. Dr. Jane Harrison, owner of the Middlesex Animal Hospital and the main objector to the tent, urged the Board to vote to have the tent removed by August 3rd.
“Dockser suggested the August 17 date as it coincides with the end of Venetian Moon’s monthly lease on the tent. After consideration, Bacci and Alvarado agreed. Member Anne Landry suggested a compromise date of August 10 and voted against the motion. Herrick was the other dissenting vote,” reported Vendt.