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CPDC, Town Planners, Town Meeting members, and members of the Community at Large,
I attended the December 18 CPDC meeting to learn more about the MBTA Communities law and Reading’s proposed zoning changes. After listening to 3 hours of questions and issues raised by concerned citizens, it was clear that the proposal was far from being ready to translate into zoning language (which was an objective of the CPDC).
There were a litany of issues raised at the meeting including validity of the original survey, parking insufficiency, impact to historical properties, affordability, concentration of changes to downtown area vs. rest of community, and the list goes on. Because the proposed zoning changes (as of Dec 18) failed to address these valid issues, the CPDC instructed the Town Planners to produce an additional alternative. However, I believe there is still a lack of focus for what and how Reading should address MBTA communities.
During the meeting, one of the Town Planners asked the Community to produce specific zoning proposals (by lot and defined criteria). The community is lucky to have residents committed to finding a meaningful solution. Boriana Milenova and Brad Rhodes did just what the Town Planners asked and presented a new plan. What they did first was to list the criteria for that plan based on the feedback from the community (from Dec 18 and other meetings). I want to highlight those criteria here since they are much more important than the detailed zoning changes. If we can agree on criteria, then it can lead to a more consistent way to evaluate proposals and help to drive a solution. The criteria they defined was as follows:
- Encourage additional development in underperforming/underutilized zones;
- Enhance existing zoning and minimize (or avoid) impact on existing single-family zones; and
- Ensure maintenance of adequate affordable housing inventory.
It should be noted that all three of these criteria are aligned with Reading’s Master Plan and Housing Production Plan. I would encourage you to read the plan they provided to CPDC, and demand CPDC give Boriana and Brad the opportunity to present their plan at the upcoming CPDC meeting on January 22 (a copy of the plan/summary can be found as an LTE), and continue to work on a solution that respects these criteria.
The other objective of their plan (again as emphasized by the community at the last meeting) was to minimize the overall impact by limiting the changes to meet the MBTA requirements, but no more. Their plan represents a “minimum compliance” solution. Unlike 40R and 40S where the state offers incentives for meeting additional housing production, MBTA communities is a compliance requirement with penalties.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge that these issues are complicated, often require significant work to develop and review, and in no way do I want to detract from the work put in by Town Staff and CPDC (volunteers). What I would like to leave you with is the following thought. No matter what solution we end up with, it will have unintended consequences. We saw that with the 40R district and continue to see it as each new development in town is presented. What I would advocate for is looking at these proposals through the lens of the community’s character and identity, which was a top concern of respondents in the MBTA Communities survey. The character of a single-family zone is one of the most important aspects (per the Reading Master Plan) and my perspective is I would rather avoid unintended consequences in a single-family rezone. Other communities have created plans that attack the MBTA Communities requirements in a way to avoid major disruption to the core of their communities. As a town meeting member, I will not support a plan (and zoning changes) that does not respect this. I strongly suggest everyone, especially Town Meeting members, educate themselves on this issue since it is likely to be front and center at April Town Meeting.