Reading, MA — By a vote of 4-0-1, the Select Board approved a resolution, drafted by member Vanessa Alvarado, condemning the violence that occurred at the United States Capitol building two weeks ago. Chair Mark Dockser referred to the violence as “a challenge to democracy in its basic form.” Select Board member Anne Landry noted that this particular violent action “Hits close to home because it was an assault on elected officials.” Dockser continued, affirming the language of the resolution, “It states what desperately needs to be stated.”
Member Carlo Bacci, who abstained from voting, stated that while he was “disgusted” by the events that occurred in Washington, D.C. on January 6, he did not believe it is the board’s place to offer commentary on national politics. “If we are going to pick and choose which violence to condemn, it is a slippery slope.” Bacci declared.
This action was preceded by a statement from Town Manager Robert LeLacheur which he called a “companion” statement to what was shared by Superintendent John Doherty last Thursday. LeLacheur accepted full responsibility for comments made by employees of the town regarding a video shared by the school district with parents while calling for continued discussion on issues as friends and neighbors. Doherty apologized for the “lack of vetting” of the video in his statement last week. Referring to the community as a “family,” LeLacheur lamented that our own “family is creating problems, not solving them.”
LeLacheur also reported that he is planning on funding six of the nine priorities suggested by the Select Board in its budget discussions. The priorities include a Health Department Director, an executive director for a new Alliance for Equity and Justice organization to be housed at the library, and a promotion to sergeant for a civil rights officer in the police department.
Economic Development Director Erin Schaeffer shared that the town plans to expand the bistro table program for downtown restaurants this spring. She also reported that 68 percent of the 628 businesses in Reading had received a PPP loan as of August. Schaeffer also presented information on the development of a downtown business improvement district (BID). A BID is a legally established, contiguous geographic area within which property owners initiate, manage, and finance supplemental services to benefit everyone who lives, works, or visits the district. It is a stakeholder-led and town supported organization. A grant has funded the development of the BID program.
Director of Development Julie Mercier suggested that the board create a volunteer Parking Advisory Recommendation Committee (PARC) to explore expanded options to improve downtown parking. Included would be one member of the Select Board, one member of the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC), and several residents, business owners, and other interested persons. PARC would engage various stakeholders to strategize and develop a comprehensive parking plan for the Select Board to consider. Town Counsel will review the proposal so that it can be voted on in an upcoming meeting.
Staff Planner Andrew McNichol reported that Reading has been designated as a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) community. This will provide opportunities for grants related to mitigation of the effects of climate change on the community. McNichol shared that grants can be used for infrastructure improvements, land acquisition, ecological restoration, and bylaw and ordinance creation. Plans for 2021 include updates to subdivision rules and regulations, floodplain bylaw updates, and stormwater design at the Maillet, Somers, and Morgan properties.
LeLacheur said that progress on the Auburn Street water tower replacement continues, with continued plans being made for the temporary relocation of public safety communications equipment. The town is also in ongoing discussions with cell carriers who use the tower for their antennas. LeLacheur indicated that the site could not support the temporary structures as had been suggested during construction. The project will appear before the CPDC for site plan approval in February.
The board also discussed communicating with neighbors and with the community in general regarding the project. LeLacheur, along with Alvarado, will serve as leads for communication in the pre-construction phase, with DPW likely taking the lead once construction begins. They will ask for the neighborhood to provide a point of contact person as well. Select Board member Karen Herrick suggested that the Permanent Building Committee (PBC) could be engaged to help oversee the project. “This is why it was created.” Herrick opined. She also shared that PBC chair Patrick Tompkins said that they “have the bandwidth” to be involved with the project.
The Select Board chose not to move forward with the expansion of beer and wine licenses for convenience stores. However, members indicated an interest in working with individual businesses with unique circumstances, should the need arise. The board also voted 4-0-1 to send a letter encouraging the legislature to hold a hearing regarding new state biomass regulations. Landry abstained, stating a possible ethics violation if she voted on the issue.
The Select Board adjourned at 10:50 pm.