Town of Reading

READING – With three unanimous votes, the Select Board nudged the start of the Auburn Street water tower project closer to reality Tuesday night. In a 25-minute meeting, the board voted to create a Special Town Meeting inside the annual Town Meeting on April 26. Unlike many previous meetings dealing with the water tower issue that were often filled with emotion, Tuesday was all about procedure. Article 1 and 2 are regular fixtures on the Town meeting agenda. Article 3, however, refers to the water tower. Together, they make up the three articles of the Special Town meeting. ARTICLE 3: To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Select Board to execute one or more ground leases of Town-owned property located at 0 Auburn Street, and shown as Assessor’s Map Parcel 27-362, for the purpose of constructing, installing, maintaining and operating a temporary structure to house one or more wireless telecommunication facilities thereon for a term of not more than 30 months, on such terms and conditions as the Select Board deem appropriate, and further to authorize the Select Board to relocate the Town’s emergency communications equipment from the water tank to the temporary wireless telecommunication facility, or take any other action thereon or relative thereto. This article stems from an agreement reached at the last Select Board meeting. At the March 23rd Select Board meeting AT&T and T-Mobile said they would pay for the temporary tower to hold their equipment along with public safety equipment. It was good news for both town and residents, leading to Tuesday night’s vote to put the project before Town Meeting. The reference to 30 months in the article includes what Town Manager Bob LeLacheur called two “construction seasons.” If Article 3 passes, the process will begin. In addition to the lease, Reading will put the building of the temporary cell tower and the return of the cell carriers to the tank into two separate Requests For Proposals (RFP). Initially the hope was to post those two RFPs by May, but LeLacheur said of that hope, “possibly, but probably not.” It’s important to have the RFPs come out at roughly the same time because cell carriers wanted assurance that if they build a temporary pole, they’ll have the opportunity to return to the new water tower. The water tower discussion started with the need to paint the tank that was built in Reading in 1953. From there came the plan to replace the water tower with a new state-of-the-art glass-fused steel tank. Along the way, a plan to put cell carriers’ equipment on a separate tower drew the rath of area residents. Discussions continued between town, residents, and cell carriers. The Permanent Building Committee, the Community Planning and Development Commission, and the Select Board all weighed in. In less than a month, Town Meeting gets its turn. Board members asked about revised cost estimates for the project. LeLacheur said the original $4.5 million estimate will be updated at the November Town Meeting but he expects he’ll ask for more money at the November meeting. He said it would likely be at least $500,000 but, “until we see bids it’s really hard to be specific.” He also added that the project could be expanded to include things like a park on the Beacon Street side of the property. The meeting inside a meeting stems from the deadline that the Select Board must meet to close the town warrant. On March 2 the board voted to close the warrant, which included 20 articles. Anything that comes after their vote on March 2 has to be a Special Town Meeting inside the April 26 meeting, or pushed until the November Town Meeting. With the town needing to post the RFPs for the water tower, it couldn’t wait until November. There are all sorts of formal rules associated with Town Meeting so the water tower issue can’t just be tacked onto the end in the form of Article 21. Instead, the members must go through the formality of closing one meeting and calling the other to order. It will be up to Moderator Alan Foulds to find a good place to slot the water tower RPF. It could be at the start of the Town meeting, or the end. At this point a brief explanation of Town Meeting is in order and Foulds is the perfect person to provide it. “Every town MUST hold an annual meeting in the spring, any type of town legislative action is fair game, as long as it is contained in the warrant. Also, at the annual meeting the operating budget for the following fiscal year must be adopted at that meeting by June 30. One more thing, per our charter -- The Select Board Chair delivers the "State of the Town Address" at that meeting. “Every November we have a second meeting called the "subsequent" meeting. It works just the same as the annual meeting, but without the budget and state of the town address. “Any time during the year the Select Board can call a special meeting if the need arises, to take up something specific. Additionally, any 200 registered voters can also petition for a special meeting if they feel it should happen.” Special Town Meetings are not rare, with the last one in 2016. Prior to the discussion of the Special Town meeting, chair Mark Dockser made two announcements. First, he reminded residents that today (3-31) at 5 p.m. is the last time to request a ballot to be mailed for the April 6 town elections. The second was more a plea than announcement. He said Reading’s Covid case count has been ticking up for the last few weeks now. “Please continue to be vigilant, wear masks and maintain social distance. Almost there but not there yet.” Following last night’s vote, the board went into executive session to discuss the “civil court and administrative actions involving 59 Middlesex Ave and the purchase of said property,” as stated on the agenda.

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