A Comprehensive Master Plan for North Reading

By John Phelan - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

In Massachusetts, cities and towns must create and update “master plans,” which are just what they sound like: plans for the future of the municipality that touch on everything from economic development to housing to transportation (and more). These plans help inform decision-making for local boards, committees, and Town Meetings to guide everything from zoning changes to where to invest in improvements. Creating these documentswhich should be updated every 10 yearsrequires a significant amount of community engagement, time, and expertise, and MAPC often provides technical assistance to municipalities updating their plans. This work is a substantial part of what MAPC planning staff spend their time on.

MAPC recently prepared a master plan for the town of North Readingits first since 2004to help shape the Town’s growth from 2020 to 2030. As part of the work, MAPC held four public workshops, two advisory group meetings, advertised a survey with 554 respondents, and sent tax bill notices to 5,000 households.

The plan builds on this community input, past studies and plans, and analysis of existing trends to create a roadmap for the next 10 years.

Through this robust community engagement process, residents reached nine overarching goals and helped create a vision statement for what the town will look like in 2030.

The vision statement endorses working toward steady progress on five main fronts:

  • protecting and celebrating natural areas
  • improving and expanding the walking and biking trail system
  • improving the aesthetics of the built environment, transforming Route 28 into a traditional Main Street
  • strengthening the town’s community and economic development, making investments to allow greater residential choices throughout town and mixed-use development along Route 28
  • Leaving a legacy for future generations
Graphic summarizing vision statement

Besides seeking input from community members, MAPC planners did extensive research existing conditions in town and did a deep dive into previous plans and studies, such as the recently-completed Housing Production Plan and studies on potential Main Street redevelopment.

The resulting Master Plan includes information on existing conditions and detailed strategies and recommendations for six topics: land use and zoning, housing, transportation, open space, public facilities and services, and economic development. Recommendations get down to granular detail: what steps to take to make Main Street more walkable, where to change zoning to reach goals, and where to make sidewalk improvements, for example.

Key interrelated challenges and goals: localized sewer supports businesses and housing, jobs and businesses, leisure retail, housing supports retail, civic anchor, addressing housing demand, design guidelines, clearer zoning, streetscape improvements

Finally, the plan ends with an implementation action table detailing the steps needed to reach the vision and the timeframe in which they should be completed.

Master plans like this one provide communities with a unified vision for the town and guidelines for how to get there, providing predictability and action guidelines for residents, businesses, developers, and elected officials. The hope is that the ideas in the Master Plan document will serve as a roadmap to guide North Reading’s decisions at Town Meetings, and other decision-making boards and committee meetings for the next 10 years.

MAPC is grateful for the opportunity to work with the Town of North Reading on assisting it to develop goals and ideas for how to shape its future.

Check out the Goals and Strategies matrix below to get an idea of the work that goes into creating these plans! Congratulations to Principal Planner Carlos Javier Montañez, who managed this project, and all staff who contributed.

What are North Reading's goals and how will they get there?

Land Use and Zoning:


Transportation and Circulation

Open Space

Public Facilities and Services

Economic Development