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North Suburban News

Reading Debates Affordable Housing Developments

Jan 31, 2019 06:28PM ● By Lisa Redmond

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READING -  The town of Reading is close to approving a Chapter 40B comprehensive permit for the proposed 86-unit Eaton/Lakeview housing project, but a recent review of the plans by the Reading Police has highlighted  a “major concern’’ about traffic safety in the area.

Under the state’s Chapter 40B requirements the developer is required to obtain a comprehensive permit from the ZBA, along with various approvals from Conservation Commission, police, fire and other town departments.

Chapter 40B is designed to increase the affordable housing stock in communities by offering developers financial incentives and limiting restrictions placed on these projects by town boards.

Under 40B at least 10 percent of the town’s housing stock must be affordable housing. Reading has earned “safe harbor status’’ by reaching a threshold of affordable housing,  which exempts Reading from new Chapter 40B applications for a limited time. It’s the second time in recent weeks that the ZBA has dealt with a 40B project at its meeting.

Reading Village

It was a shift of a few feet, but to the neighbors of the 68-unit Reading Village 40B project at the corner of Lincoln and Prescott streets, what the developer did lacked “openness and transparency,’’ according to one neighbor.

Matthew Zuker, founder and principal of New Meadow Development d/b/a MKM Reading LLC, appeared before the ZBA at its Jan. 16 meeting seeking “minor changes” to the setback requirements listed in the project’s Chapter 40B comprehensive permit issued in 2017 by the town.

Zuker explained that the town issued a building permit based on one set of plans, but when construction began last year, the building needed to be shifted by several feet on the .85-acre lot, changing the setback variances approved by the ZBA.

Zuker stressed that the size of the building is the same, but its location “slightly shifted’’ to allow for things such as a sidewalk and to meet parking requirements. It was after the foundation was poured and the walls were going up that he noticed the “discrepancy’’ in the plans.

The ZBA voted 4-1 to classify the changes as “not substantial” allowing the permit to be amended and construction to continue.

Developers are given financial incentives to build Chapter 40B projects, in doing so 40B allows developers to skirt local zoning bylaws if a project meets the state’s affordable housing guidelines.

Even if the ZBA rejected MKM’s changes, the decision could be appealed to the state Housing Appeals Committee, which would likely give the developer free reign over the project, said ZBA member Robert Redfern.

The Reading Village 40B project dates back to 2016 when two factory buildings and an auto repair shop at 31-41 Lincoln St. and 2-12 Prescott St. were razed to construct a four-story building with 68 rental units, of which 17 will be “affordable”.

Reading Village 40B is an important project for the town because it allowed Reading – one of only 11 communities in the state - to meet Chapter 40B’s “safe harbor” threshold of having affordable housing on at least 1.5 percent of developable land.

Communities that have affordable housing inventories of at least 10 percent, or on 1.5 percent or more of developable land mass, are not subject to the 40B mandate for one year. Approval for Reading Village 40B was filed in February 2017 giving the town 68 units of affordable housing production that it needed to receive the one-year 'Safe Harbor’ for new 40B applications.

While accepting that Reading Village will be built, neighbors of the project appeared before the ZBA to air their concerns that the project developer had thumbed its nose at the town by seeking permission after the changes had been made.

The developer is “coming to you after the fact asking for forgiveness after they’ve already made the changes,’’ Hancock Street resident John Parks told the ZBA. “It’s disgusting and very disrespectful to your board,’’ he said.

Mary Hart, of Riverside Drive, said, “The developer has taken advantage of the people of Reading.’’ Her concern is that will set an example of how other 40B developers will treat the town.

Mary Ellen O’Neill, of 125 Summer Ave., chastised the developer for not showing more “openness and transparency’’ about the project changes. 

But Zuker stressed there was no “ill intention of doing anything.’’ He added, “I don’t think what we are asking for is out of the ordinary.’’ It is common for 40B projects, due to their scope, to have minor modifications, he said.

Eaton/Lakeview

The Eaton/Lakeview development team, consisting of managers Joe Fodera, Joe Guy Fodera and Guy Fodera, has proposed constructing a three-building, four-story housing complex, with a percentage of affordable housing units, on 4.33 acres of land near Jordan’s Furniture. The site is partially zoned residential and industrial.

“Adding traffic entering and exiting Lakeview Avenue at Walkers Brook Drive is expected to contribute to the future deterioration in traffic safety and operations at this location,’’ Reading Police Lt. Christine Amendola wrote in a Dec. 11, 2018 letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Amendola wrote that she agrees with a peer review done by Green International, an engineering firm, that Eaton/Lakeview Development LLC should further evaluate measures to improve safety in the area.

Reading’s safe harbor status ends on Feb. 22. Town officials could have invoked its safe harbor status and delayed Eaton/Lakeview’s application, but the town would have run the risk of the developer having free reign over the project after the deadline expires. Instead, town officials have been working with the development company for more than a year on the project.

John Street neighbors have raised concerns about storm water runoff, wetlands and especially traffic at the site.

A neighborhood petition, signed by 21 residents, highlighted concerns about traffic congestion on John Street, particularly at the intersection of Route 129 during the morning and evening commutes. The petition cites a Town of Reading traffic study that shows a daily average of more than 2,100 cars travel that street per day.

The petition states that John Street has become a convenient traffic cut-through to the big box stores on Walkers Brook Drive and a bypass to the traffic lights on Main Street, resulting in this residential neighborhood dealing with traffic noise and congestion, and emissions pollution.

“Safety is also a considerable concern due to the volume and speed of cars, particularly to the families with young children,’’ according to the petition. “There is little room for error as they (children) exit their homes or walk home from schools.’’

In her letter, Amendola noted that one of the traffic mitigation measures suggested by Green International engineers would involve signalizing part of Lakeview Avenue and the intersection of Walkers Brook Drive and General Way.

Amendola disagrees with Green International’s other mitigation suggestions:  restricting a left-hand turn from Lakeview and realigning Lakeview Avenue with John Street.

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