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Changes could lead to more businesses in Vinnin Square

This map shows the properties that would be affected by the proposed zoning changes. (Courtesy photo)

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Meeting could be asked to approve a new zoning change in May, which officials say will encourage further development in Vinnin Square.

The zoning article is sponsored by the Planning Board, which will hold a public hearing on the proposed change tonight.  

The change calls for the creation of a new commercial B-4 district. The article seeks to rezone the commercial properties in the Vinnin Square area that have frontage on Essex Street/Loring Avenue. The proposed new district will have modified dimensional regulations that will encourage mixed-use and multi-family development that relates better to the street and de-emphasizes large parking lots.

Officials say the zoning change comes as a recommendation from the town’s Master Plan and is also in line with the governor’s Housing Choice Initiative to add to the housing stock to support the growing economy and provide new housing choices.

Peter Kane, director of community development, said the commercial zoning change is meant to encourage further development in Vinnin Square. The Master Plan calls for officials to focus on three areas of development, Vinnin Square, Humphrey Street and the train station neighborhood.

The change would encompass six properties in the Vinnin Square area that are currently commercially zoned as B-3 properties, which are located on Essex Street, including the Stop & Shop; Loring Avenue and Paradise Road. Those properties would be recognized as the new B-4 district.

The uses allowed in the B-3 district would be the same as the new B-4 district, but the new zoning, if approved, would change the dimensions, setbacks so buildings could be closer to property lines and how tall the properties can be, Kane said.

Two major dimensional changes for the new B-4 district, include increasing the maximum height allowance of a building to five stories, or 65 feet; or seven stories, not to exceed 85 feet, if a building has a front setback of  175 feet. The B-3 district would allow a maximum height of 35 feet for dwellings and 40 feet for all other. The new B-4 district would allow a building to cover 90 percent of the lot, versus up to 25 percent for the B-3 district.

Kane said properties, with the zoning change, could add in existing structures because the dimensional requirements are being changed or they could propose demolishing and building new structures. Other changes in the new district would require parking lots to be located only at the side or rear of the principal structure, and that no more than 30 percent of the total dwelling units shall contain two or more bedrooms.

“The intention here is to help encourage additional housing unit development, which is an initiative of the governor,” Kane said. “We want focused development here and (are) modifying dimensional elements so it allows for more housing units to be put in.”

Kane said the change would also ensure that existing commercial properties aren’t demolished and completely replaced by residential units, which erodes the commercial tax base. He said if developers wanted to demolish a commercial property and put in residential units, they would have to replicate the same amount of commercial square footage with the new property.

If there’s existing commercial space on one of the properties that would be part of the new commercial district, developers would at least have to make it a mixed-use property, rather than simply redevelop it as residential units.

But of the six properties that are part of the new commercial district, only one is currently a commercial development, which is the Stop & Shop at 555 Essex St. The majority of the other properties are multi-family residential properties, although zoning does allow for a commercial use. Those residential properties would be grandfathered in and wouldn’t be required to make any changes with the new zoning, Kane said.

The new zoning is meant to ensure, for example, that the commercial space at Stop & Stop isn’t lost. Kane said Stop & Shop has been redeveloping some of their sites by adding residential units to its grocery stores, which helps to add to their customer base. He said Swampscott may be able to see its Stop & Shop do the same thing.  

For instance, Stop & Shop’s Allston mixed-use development plans includes adding in up to 1,050 housing units, office space, a new flagship store for the grocery chain and other retail, restaurant and fitness uses, according to the Boston Herald.

If Stop & Shop wanted to change to a mixed-use development in Swampscott, Kane said the the grocery chain wouldn’t have to keep its current structure, and could rebuild a new revised structure, but would have to replicate the same square-footage of the grocery store, which would have to be devoted to commercial space.

“Our zoning change can’t tie Stop & Shop itself to the property, but it can require that commercial space be created,” Kane said.

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