Published June 10, 2021
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — The 161 voters attending last Saturday’s annual Town Meeting, held outdoors, were met with a scorching hot day on the Arthur J. Kenney turf field as temperature reach 90 degrees at the start of a four-day heat wave.
The hot temperatures definitely contributed to the sprint to the finish line as the voters dispensed with all 32 warrant articles in about 70 minutes once the meeting got underway at about 9:15 a.m.
“The temperature had ticked up a couple more degrees than we were expecting in the forecast but we opted to push forward and there were no heat-related issues to my knowledge,” Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto commented to the Transcript after the meeting.
But just in case there had been, they were prepared to deal with it. Town Moderator John Murphy informed the voters that a cooling tent was available for anyone who needed it, adding if anyone felt faint police and fire personnel were on-site to assist. Bottled water was also available.
With the anticipated end of the State of Emergency by the governor on June 15 local officials are considering the possibility of moving the previously scheduled October Town Meeting indoors at the high school. It is currently scheduled to be held outdoors.
Highlights of the meeting:
Town officials and boards did the heavy lifting throughout the past eight months to present a balanced budget to the voters for both general government and school expenses.
The confidence of the voters in this process was reflected in the swiftness with which Article 16, the omnibus budget, was passed. It required two motions. The first motion — to raise and appropriate and transfer sums totaling $72,286,977 by majority vote to fund the operating budget passed unanimously without discussion.
The second motion for debt service, in the amount of $7,768,625, required a two-thirds vote. It also passed unanimously without discussion. Combined, the two motions total $80,055,602.
Voters also transferred $200,000 from Free Cash to fund FY22 retirement obligations for town employees under Article 17; $300,000 for the Other Post Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund under Article 18 through raise and appropriate; and $100,000 from Free Cash to the School District Reserve Fund for Unanticipated/Unbudgeted Costs for Special Education, Out-of-District Tuition, or Transportation under Article 19.
Capital plan approved
The entire FY22 recommended capital expenditures budget was approved unanimously by the voters under Article 21. Some highlights include $700,000 to the DPW Engineering Dept. for roadway rehab and reconstruction and $300,000 for sewer design plans for the town center; and $115,000 to the DPW for intersection study and analysis at several accident-prone intersections in town. A sum of $100,000 was appropriated for a Little School paving project and $120,000 for computer and device replacements in the schools.
Additional capital expenditures include $2.09M in upgrades to the town’s water infrastructure from the water enterprise via authorization to borrow. Funded projects include water main rehabilitation and replacement; water distribution system upgrades, water storage tank mixers and painting and repair of water storage tanks.
Voters funded $50,000 for town building repairs for general upkeep and small projects under Article 23.
Under Article 24, a sum of $100,000 was unanimously approved to fund legal expenses related to the Ch. 40B Comprehensive Permit application at 20 Elm St., including remand to the ZBA, and any other legal costs, consultants, engineers and related costs.
Voters also unanimously approved establishing the School Rental Revolving Fund under Article 26 and established the limit for expenditures in this fund to be $125,000 under Article 27
Without discussion, under Article 29 voters agreed unanimously to amend the town’s Zoning Bylaws by adding a section on Small Cell Wireless Facilities to enable the town to regulate, to the extent possible, the new 5G facilities that will be coming soon to a utility pool near you.
Senior Housing Overlay
Zoning District approved
The most contentious debate of the day was centered on the request by developer Bruce Wheeler seeking a Senior Housing Overlay Zoning District for three parcels at 146, 148 and 150 Park St.
Wheeler has been working with the Community Planning Commission (CPC) for the past several months for the 55+ overlay in the Center Village Historic District. It would include eight affordable units (15%) out of a total of 50. Wheeler has offered to include a local preference option for the remaining market rate units. It would also involve moving the Jared McLane house back several feet to improve sight distance for this site as well as the police station because the historic building is very close to the road. It would be set on a new foundation. The building serves as Wheeler’s office and would continue to be used as such.
Wheeler has also offered to make improvements to the lower portion of the Town Common, making the bandstand universally accessible by adding a paved path, benches and raising the grade to eliminate the existing stairs up to the bandstand. These off-site changes would be maintained in perpetuity by the homeowners’ association.
The controversy was related to the demographics and affordability of the project. Those who spoke against it cited the need for more truly affordable housing stock for the town’s lower income senior citizens whose only current option is Peabody Court, which has not been updated in years. Pat Fillmore pointed out that the town has other developments that fit this demographic, such as Martins Landing and Northridge, but those who cannot afford to live in those developments are too often forced to leave town.
There was also a concern that the requirement for elevators was removed from the overlay district making it less accessible to the elderly. However, Town Planner Danielle McKnight pointed out that they had to remove this requirement because interior features cannot be regulated through the zoning bylaws; if it was left in the article the Attorney General’s office would strike it out, she said.
Seven Acres rezoned
Article 30, the citizens’ petition to amend Zoning Bylaws, Map 18, Parcels 13, 14 and 15, from Residential to Industrial/Office (I/O) at the site of the former Seven Acres Poultry Farm, 4, 12 and 14 Concord St., passed easily. The citizens’ petition was sponsored by the current owner of the property, Sergio Coviello.
After the meeting Gilleberto commented, “Town Meeting already decided on this. We knew what was going to happen when we opted not to buy the property…(Coviello) is doing what he said he was going to do, which is good. It becomes much more complicated if he comes in and says he wants to do something entirely different.”
Coviello’s plan is to move is electrical contracting business from another site on Concord Street to this site at 14 Concord Street. The two current residential homes on the property at 4 and 12 Concord St. will retain the residential use and through the Approval Not Required (ANR) process; lot lines will be redrawn ensuring they conform to area, frontage and setbacks. Site plans for the new business will be subject to the Site Plan Review public hearing process before the Community Planning Commission (CPC).
Because Article 31 passed, an amendment to the town’s zoning map was subsequently approved under Article 32: “Amend Code – Zoning Bylaws – Section 200-30 Zoning Map – 4, 12 and 14 Concord Street.”
Voters also took the following action at Town Meeting
• Article 1— FY2021 Budget Amendment: Under this article, voters unanimously amended the current Fiscal Year operating budget by increasing Water Dept. expenses on line 101 by $147,295, to be funded from water revenue and by increasing line 105: Hillview Country Club expenses by $160,000 to be funded from Hillview revenue.
• Article 2— Fund FY2021 Snow and Ice Deficit: An additional $47,155 was transferred from Free Cash to fund the deficit in the snow and ice budget unanimously.
• Article 3— FY2021 Appropriate Funds to Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund: The sum of $1,477,784 was unanimously transferred from Free Cash and added to the town’s Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund.
• Article 4— FY2021 Transfer Funds to Water Stabilization Fund: A sum of $14,665 was transferred from the FY21 Water Department Retained Earnings and added to the Water Stabilization Fund by unanimous vote.
• Article 5— FY2021 Appropriate Money to Stabilization Fund: Voters approved a $150,000 transfer from Free Cash to the town’s Stabilization Fund.
• Article 13— Voters unanimously appropriated the sum of $516,699 provided to the town through state Chapter 90 Highway Construction Funds to construct, reconstruct or maintain the town’s roadways.
• Article 14— Prior Year Bills: the voters, by unanimous vote (4/5ths was required), approved the payment of five miscellaneous bills totaling $1,136.88 from the FY21 operating budget
• Article 15— Home-Rule Petition – Establish Cell Tower Receipts Reserve Fund: The voters unanimously approved a home rule petition authorizing the Select Board to petition the General Court (the state legislature) through a special act to enable the town to lease space on the town’s water towers and at the DPW facility, 166 Chestnut St., and establish this account “into which revenue generated by the town may be placed without further appropriation from leases to cell tower companies.” It further requires the account to be maintained by the Town Treasurer in a bank doing business in this state. Expenditures from the account will be subject to a “majority vote” of Town Meeting.
Articles unanimously approved without discussion included the following:
• Article 9— Select Town Officers
• Article 10— Hear and Act on Reports of Town Officers and Committees: voters accepted the printed Town Report for the calendar year 2020 as the report of Town Officers and Committees. Copies of the new Town Report were available at the check-in tables.
• Article 11— Authorize Director of Public Works to Accept Easements
• Article 12— Authorize Treasurer to Enter into Compensating Balance Agreement
Articles passed over at Town Meeting were:
• Article 6 —FY2021 Transfer Funds to Other Post Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund)
• Article 7— FY2021 Transfer Funds to Solid Waste Stabilization Fund
• Article 8— FY2021 Appropriate Funds to Participating Funding Arrangement Fund
• Article 20— Rescind Authorization to Borrow
• Article 22— Appropriate Money to Participating Funding Arrangement Fund • Article 28— Amend Dollar Amounts for Various Revolving Funds.