Reading, MA — The virtual Annual Town Meeting got underway on Monday, April 26. After the State of the Town report by Select Board chair Karen Herrick, a special Town Meeting within the Town Meeting was called to consider one article that could not be included on the annual warrant due to timing. In this article, Town Meeting voted 181-2 to approve the execution of a lease for an outside vendor to build a temporary cell tower at the water tower site on Auburn Street. This tower will allow cell service as well as town emergency service to continue uninterrupted while the new water tower is being constructed. After this vote, the special Town Meeting adjourned, and the Annual Town Meeting resumed.
Article three was removed from the table to consider an instructional motion by Town Meeting member Theresa Wiggins, asking that roll call votes during this town meeting and any subsequent remote town meetings are recorded electronically. The motion passed by a vote of 123-56; Moderator Alan Foulds had expressed that this idea had already been adopted. Town officials and employees, as members of a remote town meeting task force, have been working on the issue, and it was announced at the beginning of the meeting that a new function of Zoom will allow for such recording.
Town Meeting voted 171-3 in favor of article four which placed several new items onto the town’s capital plan, including design for a new turf field and track at the RMHS stadium and design to replace the roof at Parker Middle School.
Most of the evening was taken up with article eight, proposed by the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC). It changes language in the zoning bylaw to allow for “outdoor commerce, dining, and storage” on private land. Community Development Director Julie Mercier noted in her presentation that the current bylaw lacks a method to allow businesses to use private outdoor space. This became apparent as businesses planned for reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new bylaw “sets parameters while allowing flexibility and provides a public process for abutters,” Mercier explained.
The proposed bylaw amendment changes these outdoor uses to “accessory uses,” thus triggering a minor site plan review by the CPDC. It is believed that this will encourage businesses to think more creatively about their outdoor space. It was noted that four businesses in town have already submitted plans to CPDC for minor site plan review this Wednesday, in anticipation of this change.
Town Meeting member Jonathan Barnes offered two amendments to the proposal, the first of which was approved by a vote of 137-16, included language to require a seven-day abutter notification before a decision is rendered. It was noted that the town already follows a two-week notification protocol. The second amendment, which failed in a close 89-91 vote, would have added language regarding the ascetics of outdoor business. An amendment to make these reviews annual also failed 35-138.
Town Meeting accepted the final amended proposal by a vote of 163-12.
Article nineteen was indefinitely postponed by a vote of 164-11. This article would have authorized the Select Board to settle all claims regarding a lawsuit from the owners of 59 Middlesex Avenue, the former Daniels House Nursing Home. Town Counsel Ivria Fried explained that the agreed settlement in the case was near to $10,000, which is less than the $25,000 threshold requiring Town Meeting approval. Fried added that the town admitted no liability in the settlement. Town Meeting voted 164-11 to postpone the article indefinitely.
Town Meeting Adjourned at 10:45 pm and will resume on Thursday, April 29 at 7:30 pm. It is expected that the Fiscal Year 2022 budget will be the primary focus at that time.