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Less is best in some Swampscott neighborhoods

SWAMPSCOTT — A proposed zoning change is aimed at reducing the number of housing units allowed in two residential neighborhoods.

The zoning article, which proposes creating a new residential district, is sponsored by the Planning Board, which will be holding a public hearing on the zoning change tonight. Town Meeting could be asked to vote on the change in May.

This change would reduced the potential of further density in two neighborhoods — the Winnepisekitt Hill neighborhood, which includes King Street and Rockland Street, a portion of Highland Street and a portion of Redington Street; and the Fisherman’s Beach neighborhood, which runs from the Fish House on Puritan Road down to Sandy Beach, which are all properties on the waterfront of Puritan Road and in the middle of Sculpin Way, according to Peter Kane, director of community development.

Between the two neighborhoods, the change would affect 118 properties, Kane said.

Those two neighborhoods are currently zoned as part of the A-3 residential district, which allows for up to 8 housing units per parcel. The properties in those neighborhoods would be retained as part of the new A-3 district, but the change would be that the district would only allow multi-family properties to contain up to three units. Single- and two-family structures would be allowed by right and three-family by special permit.

Existing properties with more than three units would be grandfathered in, but those developments wouldn’t be allowed to add any more units with the new zoning, Kane said.

The allowed uses for the new A-4 district would be the same as the current A-3 district, with multi-family developments allowed up to eight units. The rest of A-3 zoned properties would become part of the new A-4 district.

Kane said there are certain streets with the current zoning where it doesn’t make sense to allow up to eight units.

“What it’s really trying to get at is (making sure) a single-family home isn’t redeveloped into an eight-unit,” Kane said. “It could only be redeveloped into a maximum of three units.”

According to the warrant article, the change seeks to remedy inconsistencies in the A-3 district, which were the result of a 2009 amendment that created a blanket change to allowed uses in that district, which allowed increased density of use that was deemed inappropriate and detrimental to certain properties located in that district.

Kane said the Planning Board was concerned about further density in the Fisherman’s Beach neighborhood that already has problems with storm and flood damage.

Peter Spellios, a member of the Board of Selectmen, said he was in favor of the change for the Winnepisekitt Hill neighborhood, but wasn’t sure about the Puritan Road properties in the Fisherman’s Beach neighborhood. The change was discussed at a recent joint meeting between the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board.

Spellios said when the town downzones properties close to main cores, such as Humphrey Street in the case of the Fisherman’s Beach neighborhood, an already tight area is tightened even more, which could affect development opportunities.

But Angela Ippolito, chairwoman of the Planning Board, said the downzoning is about protecting those two neighborhoods and added that the board is proposing two other zoning changes for Town Meeting that are about increasing development potential elsewhere in town.

Regarding the lots in the Fisherman’s Beach neighborhood proposal, she said all of them are undersized, some to the extent where the house is literally out to the property line on many of the very old properties. She said if there were any kind of development opportunity, it would be from the merging of several lots, and that the Master Plan identifies other areas in town where the option for development is much stronger.

“There are different reasons for creating zoning regulations,” she said. “This particular one is really geared towards integrity issues, integrity of the land, environmental integrity issues, land quality integrity issues, neighborhood integrity issues, density, appropriate places for development, and protection, coastline protection, neighborhood protection.

“There’s always going to be a very specific reason for creating the zoning change and I feel that this one has equally as much merit and at least as much importance in terms of protection of these two particular neighborhoods as the other two bylaw proposals have for developing.”

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