NORTH READING – The Selectmen urged compromise as the way to go on a citizens petition at Town Meeting that would rezone 16 parcels of land on Pluff Avenue and Fairway Road from Highway Business to Residential for what the residents say is an attempt to preserve the character of their neighborhood.

The petition, sponsored by Seth Pasakarnis of Fairway Road and others, is article 36 in the June 1 Town Meeting. Pasakarnis said the rezoning is not about restricting business, but “about preserving the residential character of our neighborhood.” But after listening to both sides in the rezoning dispute for 90 minutes last week, the Selectmen recommended compromise by eliminating one particular parcel of land – 4 Pluff Ave. – from the list of affected properties. The compromise would leave 4 Pluff Ave. zoned for business but everything to the east on Pluff Avenue and Fairway Road as residential.

The Selectmen also called several times for the Community Planning Commission to step up with a recommendation on the rezoning petition. The CPC held its own public hearing on the article several weeks ago but was said to be split on the matter.

The residents said the petition is in response to the business, TZE Contractor Supply, at 299 Main St. on the corner of Pluff Avenue, which they feel already intrudes into the residential neighborhood by using Pluff Avenue for ingress and egress. The residents say TZE intends to expand by purchasing 4 Pluff Ave. and to develop that property for its construction contracting business. “This is not about restricting business, it’s about preserving the integrity of our residential neighborhood. We’re a dead end street with single means of ingress and egress,” said Pasakarnis. He said Pluff Avenue has existed as residential housing for 80 years and Fairway Road was developed as a Chapter 40B residential development in the late 1990s. “Expansion onto 4 Pluff Ave. would be a remarkable change to what’s there now, a residential home,” said Pasakarnis.

Atty. Don Bornstein of Andover, representing TZE owner Tim Zanelli, said this was an issue of “fairness and expectation” and that Zanelli bought the 299 Main St. property knowing it was a commercially zoned property and in the middle of a commercial district. He said the district has been zoned commercial since 1968 and that Fairway Road was developed under a Chapter 40B comprehensive permit that overrode that zoning. “Most of the folks who came to that area should have known they were buying in a commercial district,” Bornstein said.

Bornstein said the rezoning petition would contradict the town’s 2004 Master Plan of maximizing commercial development by taking property out of the commercial district and making it residential. Most of the residents’ presentation had little to do with the zoning change but focused on complaints about operations at 299 Main St., Bornstein stated. These complaints should be made to the Building Inspector, he said.

Broad rezoning is not the way to address code violations, Bornstein said.

Residents replied the issue is about preserving the neighborhood they live in. Patrick Thorpe, 4 Fairway Rd., said Pluff Avenue has existed as a residential neighborhood since the 1930s and to say it’s a commercial zone is to a misrepresentation.

Pasakarnis said the sale of 4 Pluff Ave. for business development “is the first shoe to drop. We strongly disagree with the characterization this should not be a zoning issue. This absolutely should be a zoning issue. This is where it needs to stop before the next domino falls.”

Selectman Stephen O’Leary said what’s driving the issue is the way the business use of 299 Main St. has changed since Zanelli bought it. “The way it’s operated has caused heightened concern” as well as its intention to expand and the perception that it’s not “residential friendly.”

Atty. Bornstein replied that’s why the town shouldn’t rezone. “You should allow the existing zoning to operate as it’s meant to and allow a successful business to expand” to the neighboring property at 4 Pluff Ave. and for the CPC to exercise oversight through the site plan review process.

O’Leary noted that when 299 Main St. was owned by the O’Rourkes, “for years and years” there were never any neighborhood complaints. He called on the CPC to reach a decision and take a stand at Town Meeting, even if it’s by a 3-2 margin. He said he’d be willing to consider a compromise proposal to make everything east of 4 Pluff Ave. residential to avoid the “domino effect” that concerns the residents.

The O’Rourkes are the owners of 4 Pluff Ave. and they have a “reasonable expectation” of being able to something with their property, and that’s something to consider, O’Leary said. But at the same time everyone else on the street could be basically left alone. He suggested the rezoning be amended to exclude 4 Pluff Ave.

Planner Warren Pearce was one of only two CPC members to attend the hearing and said he would be in favor of a compromise, but Michael Kushakji, 1 Fairway Rd., said 4 Pluff Ave was included in the rezoning because of the business’s lack of ingress and egress into the property and warned that expanding the business will mean more traffic and make the neighborhood less safe.

Selectman Mike Prisco, who chaired the meeting, felt a compromise is “the way to success” although it’s probably not the answer the residents wanted to hear. He urged the residents to meet with the owner of 299 Main St. and give a compromise serious consideration to gain support at Town Meeting.

Like all rezoning amendments, the citizens petition needs to pass by a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting.