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Swampscott plans Vinnin Square traffic mitigation

Afternoon traffic travels down Paradise Road in Swampscott Wednesday evening. (Spenser Hasak)

SWAMPSCOTT — As the town works to transform Vinnin Square into an outdoor lifestyle center with retail, green space, and roughly 200 units of housing, traffic mitigation and pedestrian access remain top priorities for the Planning Board.

Last week, Swampscott developer Andrew Rose purchased the 555 Essex St. lot currently anchored by a Stop & Shop for more than $22 million. The sale marked a significant step toward the town’s plan to redevelop the commercial district, with MarketStreet Lynnfield serving as an exemplar.

Although Town Meeting voted 152-13 to rezone the Vinnin Square district, the final vote came after a lengthy debate in which some residents expressed concern that the additional housing would worsen traffic for motorists in an already-congested area.

In 2015, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization studied the traffic and pedestrian-safety conditions of Route 1A, and other roadways in and surrounding the Vinnin Square area. It concluded that an average of 19,000 to 20,000 vehicles pass through Route 1A each day while 18,000 to 19,000 vehicles drive through Essex Street and Loring Avenue.

In an interview Tuesday, Planning Board member Angela Ippolito said that before shovels hit the ground at 555 Essex St., the Planning Board will require a peer-reviewed traffic study, funded by Rose, to be conducted on the lot, along with a comprehensive traffic plan.

“We would also require mitigation efforts based upon what’s being proposed,” Ippolito said. “I understand the concern. Everyone is concerned when there are major structural changes and residential changes… but studies and mitigation will be required for any project that goes into that spot.”

Although Ippolito said the town has not yet started to review design guidelines with Rose, she pointed out a number of the lot’s current design factors that contribute to increased traffic congestion, such as a privately owned road that cuts through the 555 Essex St. plaza to an intersection near Paradise Road.

Many motorists use the plaza road as a thruway, which Ippolito said worsens traffic congestion in the area and serves as a safety risk to motorists and pedestrians.

“​​Because that (road) is such a source of feeder traffic from Essex Street through this portion of Vinnin Square onto Paradise Road, that would be the place where we would be looking for the most mitigation,” Ippolito said. “We would make sure that that whole connector area is not only much safer, but that it’s also built out to really serve pedestrian connections and to mitigate any traffic jam-ups.”

Pedestrian access, Ippolito said, will be one of the key elements of the new Vinnin Square’s traffic-reduction strategy. She said the district’s current housing structures, such as Crown Point Condominiums on Paradise Road, might be close to the shopping centers, but are not walkable.

As Paradise Road is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the town’s traffic-reduction efforts will be mainly applicable to the area’s town-owned roads and through town-required mitigation for private lots.

“It’s always fascinated me that these condos and apartments are literally a stone’s throw from Vinnin Square, but if you want to walk down to get a coffee at Starbucks, you can’t because there’s no way to get there, there’s no pedestrian access,” Ippolito said. “We’re looking at how we can manage traffic here. It’s not just how many cars are stacked up at a light, it’s how livable an area is.”

Members of the public are invited to share their thoughts and concerns on the Vinnin Square redevelopment project at the Reimagining Vinnin Square community forum at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 in the Swampscott High School cafeteria.

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