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New Zoning overlay on track for Swampscott station

A proposed zoning bylaw could help Swampscott encourage the right kind of development for the blocks surrounding the train depot.

Town officials hosted a public forum on Tuesday to break down the intent behind the Smart Growth M.G.L 40R Overlay District Act, according to Angela Ippolito, chair of the Planning Board. The bylaw allows for the development of dense residential and mixed-use projects near transit stations and town centers, according to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. The projects often include more affordable housing.

“The train depot makes a lot of sense for this one,” said Ippolito. “The purpose is to cut down a lot of congestion in terms of so many cars and encourage the use of public transportation.”

The bylaw is complicated and takes a lot of analysis, which is why the town wants to ensure people in the surrounding areas of the train depot are able to understand what it means, she said. There will be a second public forum on Jan. 9 in the high school’s auditorium before the planning board presents the proposal to the Board of Selectmen.

The new set of rules would allow the town to draft design guidelines for any future development plans for the proposed area, Ippolito said. It would not change any property values and would not force anyone to do anything, it would just allow ideas for appropriate uses that could potentially be beneficial to the town, she said.

“It’s kind of like owning a piece of land and thinking you might build a house there some day, so have an architect draw up plans,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you are committed to those plans, though. If and when properties do get developed there, we would have guidelines in place for exactly what can happen.”

There are incentives from the state to adopt this particular bylaw since it wants to encourage high-density, affordable developments, said Ippolito. The state would pay back the town for every building permit or unit built under the smart growth mantle, she added.

In the guidelines, there is a required 25-percent affordability clause for any multi-family or high-density housing rental developments and 20-percent affordability for condos, she said.

Once approved by the Board of Selectmen, the presentation would move forward to Town Meeting in May, with a public hearing and a look-over from the town’s legal department in between, she said. The bylaw will be adopted if there is a two-thirds “yes” vote at Town Meeting.

“We think it’s a way to encourage the right kind of development here,” Ippolito said. “We are ready for whatever happens and we are ready to adapt. Communication and transportation are continuously changing, so we’re shooting to be the best possible version of ourselves as a town.”

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