Reading, MA — The Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) opened a public hearing on August 9 to review plans for a proposed new four-story development at 6-16 Chute Street. The current building on the 17,986 square foot site, built in 1974, is a one-story commercial building that houses several businesses, including the Last Corner Restaurant, The Green Tomato, and a laundromat.
According to attorney Josh Latham, speaking for the developer, the current building is “not attractive . . . outmoded and tired” and only provides common bathrooms in the basement. The current site also has a private 31-space parking lot. Latham noted that the parcel of land is zoned as “Business B” and is part of the 40R smart growth district, though it abuts a residential zone.
Latham continued describing a proposed building that would create two commercial spaces on the first floor, one on the “corner” of the lot and the other on High Street. The remainder of the first floor would be for 42 spaces in a parking garage set aside for tenants. The garage would be entered from Chute Street. The upper three floors of the building would house 12 two-bedroom apartments and 2,1 one-bedroom apartments. The entrance to the residential portion of the building would also be on Chute Street.
Architect Jeffrey Olinger described the proposed modern-looking “flatiron” style building as one that would “enliven the public realm.” His design proposes a publicly accessible open space at the tip of the corner of the lot. Due to the removal of a curb cut, two street-parking spaces would be added to High Street. Olinger continued sharing that each unit in the building would have either an outdoor terrace or a balcony. The residents would also have the use of a community room and a larger second-level terrace for gatherings. Twenty-five percent of the apartments would be designated as “affordable.” Developer Jamie Gerrity added that he anticipates the project to occur in 2024.
CPDC member Nick Safina, while approving the general design of the building, expressed his concerns regarding the reduction of retail spaces, a smaller outdoor space than is currently present, and the overall number of residential units in the building. Safina continued to suggest that the developer could increase the number of retail units by reducing the number of residential units and thus reducing the need for as much garage parking.
CPDC member John Weston agreed with Safina, also indicating that he questioned the engineering of the garage parking, which seems to include too many “compact” vehicle spaces. Weston also expressed concern over the lack of a designated loading zone for the building, suggesting that the result could be congestion on Chute Street.
CPDC Member Heather Clish chimed in over the lack of space for outdoor dining in the plans and wondered regarding the impact on the abutting homes at 98 and 100 Woburn Street. “What happens with this building will make or break if [Chute Street] is a more pleasant walk [to downtown] from the adjacent neighborhoods,” Clish declared. “Or will it feel more like an alley?”
Several residents spoke at the meeting, decrying the number of large developments in the downtown in recent years. “I urge you to ask Town Meeting to change the 40R district,” suggested resident Michael Monahan. Monahan also encouraged CPDC to encourage the legislature to revise sections 40B and 40R, which led to such developments. Weston explained to the crowd that growth was going to occur; the question was how does the town want it to be managed.
Attorney Nick Parlitis, speaking for the owner of The Last Corner, shared that the business has been in the building since it opened in 1974 and that the restaurant has thirteen years remaining on its lease. He also noted that the building is currently fully occupied. Parlitis suggested that the restaurant would use the courts, if needed, to maintain its lease. “This application [to CPDC] is premature,” Parlitis commented.
Brian Knight, whose home abuts the property, expressed concerns over privacy, dust from the construction, and what this development could do to the stability of the ledge and hill on which his home sits. “Looking at a wall of windows is not what I moved to Reading for,” Knight added.
Speaking for tenants of the building at 2 Haven Street, Kate Fallon added on, expressing concern regarding the placement of the garage entrance and its proximity to the intersection of Brande Court and Chute Street. She also shared parking concerns as the customers of the current tenants have use of the parking lot; Fallon expressed concern that customers of the new retail spaces will crowd into spaces already used by customers of businesses in other buildings, specifically in the Brande Court parking lot. Select Board chair Karen Herrick questioned the sustainability aspects of the design.
CPDC chair Pam Adrian ended the discussion suggesting that the developer consider changes to the plans due to the discussion. Latham acknowledged the request and asked the board for a continuance. CPDC voted 5-0 to grant the request, continuing the public hearing to October 4 at 8:30 pm.