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Swampscott to take a tour through Town Meeting

Swampscott Town Hall. (Item File Photo)

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Swampscott Town Hall.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — When Town Meeting convenes tonight, voters will be asked to allocate funds to move forward for a proposed rail trail, and approve zoning changes, including one that would could bring a hotel or inn to Swampscott.

Town Meeting members will be asked to approve a warrant article, requesting $850,000 for the design and engineering of the trail location within the National Grid corridor, as well as the legal fee and costs for acquisition of the easement rights.

Officials have said $240,000 of the requested Town Meeting funds would be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 would be for acquisition of easement rights, where the town would work with the property owners (National Grid and/or other parties) to secure the rights. This may be done through eminent domain, with compensation for owners, or by donation/gift of the land.

The Town Meeting funds would not be for construction of the trail, which would be paid with donations, grants, and private funds, officials said.

Peter Kane, director of community development, said previously that the utility corridor is made up of 11 parcels of property. National Grid pays property taxes for all 11 parcels, but doesn’t hold clear title on all of them. Through a title process, numerous owners have been identified, which could include abutters.

Many abutters have voiced their opposition to the proposed trail, citing concerns with privacy and safety. Others mentioned that their land could be taken by eminent domain.

Three proposed zoning changes are on the warrant, but the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen have recommended indefinite postponement on one that would change residential (A-3 districts), which allow up to eight multi-family units through a special permit process, to residential (A-2) districts, which would only allow single-family homes by right, in certain areas.

The down-zoning would include fewer than 80 properties, which includes the neighborhood of Rockland Street, King Street and Redington Street. The other section is the waterfront properties from the Fish House to Sandy Beach on Puritan Road.

Kane said indefinite postponement was recommended by the Planning Board to allow further discussions with property owners, who have expressed concern that changing the district would change their property rights.

Town Meeting members will be asked to amend zoning bylaws that would create a tourist lodging overlay district, and modify where hotels, motels, inns and a bed and breakfast are allowed by special permit. The overlay district identifies more areas where the lodgings are possible, and the purpose is to make Swampscott more of a tourist destination again. The current zoning bylaw has significant restrictions in place, making the creation of tourist lodging difficult in Swampscott, according to town documents.

The tourist lodging overlay district includes the portion of Humphrey Street from the Lynn line to the monument. There are also the properties on the east side of Puritan Road, opposite Sandy Beach. Kane said the Planning Board will recommend to Town Meeting members that two properties on Sculpin Way be eliminated from the district, along with the properties from Phillips Beach to Preston Beach.

There is currently only one bed and breakfast in town on Humphrey Street, and there are no hotels, motels or inns.

Voters will be asked to amend the zoning bylaw by adding affordable housing regulations, or inclusionary housing regulations. The purpose is to encourage the development of affordable housing in Swampscott, which is below the state-required amount of affordable housing units. The town is at 3.75 percent, while 10 percent of all units are required to meet the affordable housing definition, according to town documents.

If a new project, or development, is a certain size, or more based on housing units, it triggers the requirement that at least 15 percent of its units be contributed as affordable. That would apply to a new multi-family development, with 10 units or more; at new subdivision, with six units or more; and an assisted living or independent living facility, with five units or more. Kane said the Planning Board will recommend that the 15 percent drops down to a 10 percent requirement.

Developers can also pay a fee in lieu of offering affordable housing, which would go toward the town’s affordable housing trust. If the zoning change is approved, the requirement would only apply to developments proposed after Town Meeting.

Town Meeting members will be asked to approve lowering the town’s speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour.

“As part of the Municipal Modernization Act, by accepting this state statute, the Board of Selectmen would be allowed to reduce the speed limit on certain roads without state approval,” the warrant article reads.

Officials have said the idea is to lower the speed limit in thickly settled areas, and to achieve improved traffic safety on local roads. The change won’t affect state-controlled roads, such as Paradise Road, which has a speed limit of 35 mph. Town roads with posted speed limits lower than 25 mph also won’t be affected by the change.

Fire Chief Kevin Breen is seeking a $645,000 replacement of a 20-year-old fire engine at Town Meeting, which is among other capital project funding requests that would require approval. He said replacement of Engine 22, a 1997 Emergency One Hurricane Cab, which currently serves as a reserve piece, has been in his capital plan for six years.

If the funds are allocated for a new fire engine, Breen said Engine 21, a 2009 Spartan that serves as the frontline piece, would become the reserve piece and the new vehicle would become the frontline piece.

Town Meeting members will be asked to approve a $66.63 million town budget, which includes $28,197,500 allocated to the schools.

Voters will be asked to the authorize the Board of Selectmen to petition the General Court for special legislation allowing the board to issue eight additional all-liquor licenses.

“This article would provide additional business opportunities in our commercial districts, such as Humphrey Street and Vinnin Square, where eating establishments would like to operate with a liquor license,” the warrant article reads. “The 14 existing licenses are currently granted in full.”

Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said several weeks ago, the Board of Selectmen issued the town’s last all-liquor license, and two weeks ago, a restaurant applied for a liquor license the town doesn’t have. He said the increase would be an opportunity to bring new investments or new opportunities to Swampscott that would be lost to another community that has the licenses available.

Town officials hope that a historic preservation restriction placed on the Swampscott Fish House, if approved by Town Meeting, will allow them to receive a $50,000 grant for renovations.

Gino Cresta, assistant town administrator and department of public works director, said the Fish House is already on the Massachusetts Historic Register, but the warrant article adds a historical preservation restriction to the building. He said that puts more protection, and exterior work done on the building would require Massachusetts Historical Commission permission.

He said the town has already applied for the $50,000 Mass Historical grant for renovations to the Fish House, which it would still be eligible for if the article passes.

Town Meeting convenes at 7:15 p.m. at Swampscott High School auditorium, 200 Essex St.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

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