Reading, MA — The Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) reviewed plans on Monday, March 8, to develop the empty lot located at 18 Woburn Street. The previous structure on the lot, located on the southerly side of Woburn Street, burned down in 2006, and the 4,172 square foot lot has remained empty since that time. Speaking for the developer, Attorney Josh Latham referred to the location as a “downtown puzzle piece that has sat fallow for fifteen years.” The current owner purchased the vacant lot and has an agreement to sell it to Fodera Construction for development.
Latham shared that the lot is zoned “Business B,” and the owner, by right, could construct a forty-five-foot tall commercial building with no setbacks on the site. The lot is also in the 40R smart growth district. Latham informed the CPDC that the developer is proposing a three-story, mixed-use building with retail on the first floor facing Woburn Street and six two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors. The proposal also includes a first-floor handicapped-accessible two-bedroom apartment. A nine-car parking garage would be located underneath, accessed from the adjacent municipal parking lot.
Latham continued that the developer was interested in working with the town to improve vehicular and pedestrian access to the municipal lot by granting a three-foot easement for a sidewalk on the public way next to the new building or for a widened parking lot entry road. He also mentioned the possibility of providing some resources to help fund improvements to the parking lot.
The commercial space is proposed to be 1,600 square feet, facing Woburn Street, with an outdoor deck on the Parking lot side of the building. The building would be set back three to five feet on the Woburn Street side, allowing a potential business to use that space for outdoor dining or other commercial purposes. Three street trees are also proposed.
Giovanni Fodera, the project engineer, reported that the building would have a twenty-two-foot-wide entrance into the garage that would require the removal of three parking spaces in the municipal lot. Citing the traffic report commissioned by the developer, Fodera stated that the loss of these spaces “won’t have adverse effects on parking in the area.” The building would also be set three feet from its neighbor to the west, a two-story office building.
Architect John Seger presented renderings of the proposed building, which he stated were inspired by other downtown buildings. The exterior would be primarily red brick with concrete highlights and metal accents. The building’s height would be 34 feet on the Woburn Street side and 43 feet on the facing parking lot.
Latham concluded the presentation asking for a few waivers, most notably one for site density, sharing that the project “is designed to fit the guidelines.”
CPDC member Nick Safina reacted to the plan with two primary concerns: the lack of a proper elevator in the building and the small size of the retail space compared with the value of the lost parking spaces in the municipal lot. He shared his belief that the entire first floor should be retail space, stating, “The [first floor] residential unit doesn’t work.”
Chair John Weston expressed concern over the validity of the parking demand study cited by Fodera, given that it was conducted during a COVID-affected level of activity. “I’m not sure capacity [of the lot] can meet increased demand.” Weston declared. Development Director Julie Mercier pointed out that the 2018 parking study conducted by the town indicated that the parking lot typically is over 90% capacity during peak periods.
Abutter Gina Roy also questioned the lack of a dumpster for the site, given that the commercial tenant could be a restaurant. Roy also expressed concerns regarding light spillage onto Woburn Street. Seger assured the CPDC that all planned lights point down and should not affect the street. He also agreed to look into the dumpster issue.
The public hearing on the matter was continued to April 12 at 7:30 pm.
Auburn Street Water Tower
The board reopened the continued hearing on the proposed Auburn Street water tower. Michael Warner of Weston & Sampson shared different lead mitigation methods that can be on the site.
Town Engineer Ryan Percival suggested that the proposed new fence could be moved closer to the tower, creating additional open space on the site if these methods were utilized. Several abutters expressed approval of the idea of creating more open space in the neighborhood. Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado also suggested that the proposed idea of creating a park in the space be explored in a parallel time frame to the tower construction to minimize disruption to the neighborhood. Several abutters seek assurance that the bracketing design to hold cellular and municipal antennas is sturdy enough for the devices.
The public hearing was continued to March 22 at 7:30 pm.
The final case for the night was the reimagined site plan for Bagel World at 323 Main Street. The new plan calls for the southern curb cut to the site to be increased to thirty-five feet and become an entrance only, with the northern curb cut reduced to twenty-two feet and be exit only, creating a one-way in, one-way out traffic flow. These changes, along with two lanes of traffic going around the building to the drive-through, should “remediate safety issues and traffic back-up on Main Street.” According to Bill Jacobs, the site architect.
CPDC member Heather Clish praised the updated proposal calling it, “A lot less confusing than the initial plan.” The CPDC voted 4-0 to approve the site plan modification. Included in the approval decision is a contingency that a police detail, paid for by Bagel World, might be required at peak times if traffic issues at the location persist.
CPDC adjourned at 11:35 pm.