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Swampscott residents voice concern over traffic, population at forum

SWAMPSCOTT — Traffic and population density were the biggest concerns raised during Thursday night’s public forum on the proposed zoning bylaw for the train depot area.

The forum was the second one hosted by town officials, along with Jennifer Goldson, the hired planning consultant under contract with MassHousing, to discuss the intent behind the Smart Growth M.G.L 40R Overlay District Act with residents. 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.

“I want us to think about how to create a Swampscott we can love not only today, but tomorrow,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald. “I am trying to find ways to sustain revenues and grow investments in a very careful way. I want to take properties and make them even more valuable.”

During Goldson’s presentation on the basics of the zoning bylaw, town residents were eager to ask questions and raise concerns. The issues of traffic in the area and population density throughout the town were the biggest topics from the packed room of train depot neighbors.

“I’m mixed because I’m directly affected,” said Danielle Phillips, a Swampscott resident of eight years. “I’m still undecided on how I feel about this.”

Other issues included the current decay of the underused train station, the area becoming more densely populated if there’s an increase of commuters, the lack of parking in the area already, and what types of people would be brought in with the bylaw’s affordable housing incentive.

“We don’t want to be another Chelsea,” one resident yelled out during the presentation.

The proposed districts for the bylaw include the train station, the front of Essex Street, Lally’s Garage and the residence across from it, Burrill Street, New Ocean Street, and Pine Street, including the VFW and the liquor store near it.

The new set of rules would allow the town to draft design guidelines for any future development plans for the proposed area surrounding the historic train station, according to Angela Ippolito, chair of the Planning Board. 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 in a previous interview with the Item.

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.

The majority of residents stated they did not want the zoning bylaw to expand to anymore districts near the train station and suggested removing Lally’s Garage from the proposed plan. While the majority of the crowd still had a lot of questions, a number of residents did agree it would help with the beautification of the town and the revitalization of the area.

“I think it’s inevitable and this is a way for the town to have some control because once something goes into a 40B zoning bylaw, the town will have no control,” said resident Richard Willey. “If we’re going to go big, are we thinking big enough?”

 

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