As our Assistant Town Manager, Jean’s job centers on the ability to lead the Public Services Department (PSD). The PSD is a multi-faceted department with a staff of 35 people employed in Planning and Economic Development, Conservation, Historical and Building (Community Development) as well as Public Health, Elder and Human Services, Recreation and Veteran’s Services (Community Services).
She’s at it from dawn to late evening many days of the work week. Her town activities truly shatter the negative image of some public servants going along for the ride.
Jean’s management position is an appointed one and she’s been serving Reading for 10 years with the first 4 as the Director of Community Services/Town Planner and the past 6 as our Assistant Town Manager. Jean has been involved in public service for 38 years and was Peabody’s Community Development & Planning Director for 7 years prior to coming to Reading in 2009. Her previous public service included several stops before that in Cities, Towns, as well as at the MBTA.
Like businesses and private, non-profit organizations, town government planning begins with establishing a focus on managing future growth under a set of agreed upon priorities. It should be said here that one Spotlight Column can only highlight the results of that multi-faceted effort by many people beginning with the development of a Master Plan in 2005. Over a dozen planning studies have been prepared since then.
A key component of the plan development has been citizen participation in the planning process. Jean feels that a public engagement strategy is essential to obtaining feedback from community stakeholders including Reading residents, property owners, business owners and others. The plans have ranged from parking studies, housing plans and economic development action plans just to name a few. The priorities then became: (1) keeping the downtown area vital; (2) preserving what’s important; and (3) being queued up for opportunities.
The development we are currently witnessing was guided by the various plans that have been adopted. The goals identified in the Master Plan included Economic Development broadly and specifically in the Downtown. A Downtown Market Study was completed in 2007 and then the Downtown Smart Growth District (DSGD) was adopted by Town Meeting in 2009, when Jean joined Reading as the Director of Community Services/Town Planner. Her work on Reading’s 2016-2022 Economic Development Action Plan identified 4 Priority Development Area’s (PDA’s) encompassing: (1) Downtown; (2) South Main Street; (3) Industrial Area Behind RMLD (Rear Ash Street); and (4) General Way.
Concentrated development Downtown was what resulted from the earlier planning work and involved Town Meeting approving zoning changes to facilitate that growth. The Downtown Smart Growth District (DSGD) requires developers to follow Design Guidelines and provide affordable housing units as well as obtain Site Plan Review from the Community Development and Planning Commission (CPDC). Through the public hearing process abutters and others are invited to participate in the plan review process to identify impacts and suggest mitigative measures.
Three projects were approved under the DSGD: 24 Gould Street with 55 units, 467 Main Street with 31 apartments and Postmark Square with its 50 luxury condos. All 3 developments will include street level commercial space for businesses like restaurants, shops and resident services.
A variation to the plan, the Met, was permitted for 68 residential units (with a slightly larger number of affordable housing units) under a State Law known as MGL Ch. 40B which bypasses local zoning.
A major objective of the Smart Growth Zoning, in addition to providing affordable housing units as well as mixed-uses, was to make Reading more walkable around the major sources of public transportation and shopping. In addition to further advancing the downtown shopping opportunities, it would hopefully discourage the auto “cut-through” in dealing with 20k cars a day. Expanding the parking hours from 2 to 4 in the public parking lot directly behind the downtown stores as CVS and Whitelam Books, also advances the shopping opportunities. Likewise, for the Brande Court parking lot.
Reading’s economic development doesn’t stop there. The “Eastern Gateway” has recently been studied as an offshoot of priority development areas off Walker’s Brook Drive (PDA 3 & 4). “Re-Imagining Reading” is underway and has been the focus of planning meetings over the past six months. Breathing new life into older industrial areas while preserving what’s there is part of the plan.
Jean enjoys most about her job “working with a great group of people from the Town Manager, Bob LeLacheur to elected officials to volunteers where everybody cares about the town and considers transformative ideas rooted in community engagement. It’s never boring”.
Jean’s activities aren’t limited to city/town government. Her husband Paul was the Chef at Paolo’s Trattoria, a small 48 seat restaurant in Charlestown which opened nearly 20 years ago. Paul was the Chef and Jean ran the dining room (in addition to her day job in local government). “You learn so much owning and operating a restaurant; it was a dream come true! Ironically, when I took the job in Reading, I ran into so many of the people that were regular’s at Paolo’s and lived in Charlestown and now live in Reading. Even one of my employees was a Paolo’s regular and we didn’t even discover that until a year ago!”
Jean grew up in Arlington and is a graduate of Clark University in Worcester, majoring in Geography (City Planning). She has an MBA from Boston University and lives with her husband of 25 years, Paul who is a chef, and runs Kane’s Donuts, a family business started in 1955 and features a wide variety of specialty, homemade donuts. They have 3 stores including one in Boston and two in Saugus – the most recent one opened last Spring at the site of the famous Orange Dinosaur which oddly enough once was a Reading landmark.
Jean ranks Reading residents very high in participating in on-going community engagement efforts. She says that Reading has a demonstrated high level of community pride as evidenced by the town’s staff, boards, elected officials, businesses and residents.
Jean urges residents to get involved (if they aren’t already) and become a volunteer or participate in some way. “Planning meetings are held all the time and can be found easily on the town website. You can even sign up to be notified electronically from the website so you find out about meetings in advance.”
Author’s Note: A special thank you to Jean for her contributions to our town and input in preparing this Spotlight.