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Reading

Voters OK 2d tax hike for library

Wakefield residents refuse to transfer town land to firm

Reading voters agreed to an additional tax increase for a library building project, while Wakefield voters rejected a land transfer for a joint downtown municipal and private parking garage in Tuesday’s elections.

Voters in three area districts also elected two new state representatives and a new state senator to fill seats left vacant due to resignations.

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At Reading’s annual town election, residents approved a $3.5 million debt exclusion, or temporary tax increase, to cover the added costs of the planned renovation and expansion of the public library. The vote was 2,430 to 1,899.

“What a relief,” said Alice Collins, a member of the Board of Library Trustees. “We just treasure our library. It’s such a resource for everybody in town and we are just delighted we can move forward with the project and make it a more contemporary space for the amazing librarians to work in.”

The state in 2012 awarded a $5.1 million grant for the project, and voters last year passed a $9.8 million debt exclusion to cover the town’s share of the estimated $14.9 million plan. But the projected cost rose to $18.3 million in January after studies found further deficiencies with the building. The new debt exclusion will fund those added costs.

“This really was a massive effort on the part of a very small group of really hard-working and dedicated people to clarify the need for the additional money,” said Ruth Urell, the town’s library director.

The project calls for renovating the 31,000-square-foot library and building an 8,000-square-foot addition. Depending on the length of the bond, the debt exclusions together will add $183 annually for 10 years, or $136 annually for 15 years, to the tax bill of an average single-family home assessed at $446,137.

In Wakefield, residents voted, 2,527 to 2,105, to overturn a Special Town Meeting vote held in February. That vote authorized the town to convey a 17,999-square-foot parcel at 344 Main St. to Brightview Senior Living, which is seeking to build an assisted living facility on an adjacent site now owned by the Fraen Corp.

The town land, which is used for municipal parking, is next to two bank parking lots. Wakefield and the banks would have transferred their parcels to Brightview to build a 198-car parking garage for use by the town, banks and assisted living facility. In return, the town would have let Brightview expand from 90 to 140 the number of units in its planned facility.

Town officials said the plan would help Wakefield solve a longstanding need for more downtown parking while generating income over the long-term. But a residents’ group, objecting to the size of the overall development, successfully petitioned for a ballot vote.

“We are thankful to all town officials and business interests for all their hard work in presenting the plan to the voters, and to the voters for their overwhelming support in defeating the plan,” said Bob Mitchell, a spokesman for the group, Stop Town Land Giveaway.

“I think we had more passion about this issue than the other side did,” Mitchell said.

Brian McGrail, an attorney representing Brightview, said, “My client thought this could be a great public-private partnership that would be a great opportunity for the town and for themselves, but we all have to respect the democratic process.”

“I’m frustrated that a fear campaign cost us an opportunity to generate $11.6 million for the town,” said Selectman Brian Falvey, referring to Finance Committee estimates of the long-term benefit of the land transfer.

Falvey said if there is sufficient public support, selectmen might place the proposal before voters again at the May 12 annual Town Meeting. “If voters want us to resurrect this, they should speak up and we’ll do it,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll let it go.”

Brightview could revert to its original plan for a 90-unit facility under a 2012 zoning measure adopted by the town that allows assisted living on the site. But McGrail said the company is still digesting the outcome of the vote. “They are going to look at all their options.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell said his group filed a new petition for a Town Meeting article to overturn the 2012 vote that approved the site for assisted living.

“That’s surprising to me because throughout the campaign, they stated that they had no problem with assisted living on the site,” said McGrail.

Mitchell said his group has since concluded that “this is the wrong location for an assisted living facility, period.”

In the legislative elections, state Representative Jason M. Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, claimed the Fifth Middlesex state Senate seat that Katherine M. Clark vacated after the Melrose Democrat was elected to the US House on Dec. 10. Lewis outpaced Melrose Republican and Alderwoman Monica C. Medeiros, 10,610 to 9,229.

RoseLee Vincent, a Revere Democrat, won the special election to fill the 16th Suffolk House seat that Revere Democrat Kathi-Anne Reinstein resigned effective Jan. 17 to take a job in the private sector. Vincent received 1,586 votes to 749 for Chelsea Republican Todd B. Taylor.

Charlestown Democrat Dan Ryan, a longtime aide to US Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville, was elected without opposition to the Second Suffolk House seat that Chelsea Democrat Eugene O’Flaherty resigned effective Jan. 31 to become the top attorney in Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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