Published in the February 25, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — Fallout from last month’s Zoning Board of Appeals decision not to grant a special permit for a dog care business on Route 28 continued Monday night at the Board of Selectmen.

Andrew Schultz, President of the Reading–North Reading Chamber of Commerce, criticized the ZBA for turning down the permit, saying the business community has “great concerns” about the ZBA for turning down the permit and that the applicant, Francine Coughlin, was not treated fairly.

Schultz said Coughlin’s proposal to rehab a dilapidated building on Main St. as a new location for her business, Bark ‘n Roll, should have been approved because it was proposed for a property in the Highway Business zone and that Coughlin was “bullied” at the first meeting — not by the ZBA members but by opponents in the audience.

Schultz admitted he was not at the public hearings on Coughlin’s special permit application, but said he has heard multiple reports from those who were there.

Most of the behavior Schultz characterized as bullying came from one opposed abutter, not the majority of the neighbors.

He said permit denial was based on a seldom used, obscure provision of the zoning laws “that basically says any business that makes any noise could be denied” and this isn’t the message the town wants to send to prospective businesses. “I don’t understand why a permit was denied on speculation” of noise that might occur, he said.

Coughlin plans to appeal the ZBA decision in Middlesex Superior Court, Schultz stated. “From what I’m told, she wasn’t given a fair shake.” Although he admitted again he wasn’t there, Schultz thought she has a good chance of prevailing.

“We’re concerned the precedent the ZBA used in denying this permit was not a good precedent,” said Schultz. “You could deny a business based on any kind of noise,” he said. “I’ve never heard so many people upset at one decision. There was no evidence this business will be loud, it was purely based on speculation.”

“If you can’t put a business like that on Route 28, where it’s zoned for Highway Business, where can you put it?” he asked.

Selectman Stephen O’Leary defended the ZBA members and the decision making process, saying it’s unfortunate Schultz was “casting aspersions and attacking their character to a certain degree.” (O’Leary’s brother Paul is Chairman of the ZBA but was not part of  the Bark ‘n Roll hearings and did not participate in the decision).

O’Leary said the ZBA did its job in taking input from the direct abutters on Damon and Gould Sts. who were unanimously opposed. “It’s my understanding the petitioner was given the chance to withdraw the application or continue the hearing and chose not to.”

Schultz replied, “There’s a perception this woman was not given a fair shake for whatever reason. When you live next to commercially zoned property, you have to expect there can be something commercial on that property.” O’Leary replied that the the properties in question – three abutting single family houses on the northerly side of Route 28 just south of Beyond Bagels – were residential for many years belonging to one family. The owners are now deceased and the properties are for sale, he said.

O’Leary said Coughlin had the opportunity to directly approach the abutters and “educate” them as to what the business will be like. Schultz replied “there’s nothing she could say” that would sell the neighbors on the project.

“If that’s the case, then people don’t want it there,” replied O’Leary.

Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri he appreciates the Chamber coming forward and expressing concerns. “There’s a process the ZBA acts by when dealing with these specific issues. No matter what happens, some one’s unhappy one way or the other.”

With Coughlin ready to file her appeal, Schultz said he hoped the sides could still get together.

O’Leary said the members who voted against Coughlin feel badly about it, but the Selectmen, as a board, don’t interfere with the decision making process.

Fairway Rd. residents see similarities

Seth Pasakarnis, 7 Fairway Rd., said residents of his street also have a significant issue regarding a business on the corner of Route 28 and Pluff Ave. in the Highway Business District and its effect on 15 or 16 residential properties.

“I’m very encouraged by Mr. O’Leary’s comments tonight that residences affected by a business in the HB district will have a fair chance to be heard.” Pasakarnis said there’s a ZBA hearing on this issue coming up in March as well as another ZBA hearing he personally filed related to that business, which will be heard at a future date. He encouraged Selectmen to come to the hearing in March to see what transpires related to the conflict between the Highway Business district and residentially zoned parcels abutting that district.

Michael Kushakji, 1 Fairway Rd., said he felt his neighborhood didn’t get a “fair shake” when it went before the ZBA and brought up their concerns concerning Zanelli Construction. “Noise creation directly affecting the abutters was a concern,” he said. The two situations are inconsistent, he said.