Swampscott maps out MBTA communities zoning

Entering Swampscott sign seen on Lynn Shore Drive. (Libby O'Neill)

SWAMPSCOTT — The Planning Board is working with consultants from Bohler Engineering to put the finishing touches on 20 acres of land to be used for multi-family housing in accordance with Section 3A of the Commonwealth’s 2021 Zoning Act.

Under Section 3A, MBTA communities, or municipalities located half of a mile from an MBTA commuter-rail, subway, or bus station or ferry terminal, must have a multi-family housing zoning district near the public-transit station. As Swampscott has a commuter-rail station, it is considered an MBTA community and required to create a multi-family housing zoning district.

According to Director of Community and Economic Development Marzie Galazka, areas that the town identified as potential multi-family zoning districts, such as Vinnin Square, already meet the law’s required residential unit density of 15 units per acre.

“(Bohler’s) analysis today shows that the areas that we looked at to comply with the MBTA communities legislation meet their criteria based on the land area and the number of units,” Galazka said at a Planning Board meeting Monday night. “No further work is needed outside of amending or creating an overlay district through the Town Meeting process.”

In order to remain in compliance with Section 3A, at least 25% of the MBTA housing district, which is roughly five acres in the case of Swampscott, must be within half of a mile of the Swampscott commuter-rail station. According to Planning Board member Angela Ippolito, Bohler consultants helped the town map out a six-acre region surrounding the station for redevelopment.

The Vinnin Square rezoning approved at Town Meeting in May already allows for roughly 30 residential units per acre in the area, and the area between Essex Street and Paradise Road is currently zoned for “robust access to public transportation,” Ippolito said.

If Town Meeting approves the overlay district zoning amendments necessary to enact the board’s current mapping, Ippolito said Swampscott will be in compliance with Section 3A. However, she said, the zoning map will be subject to the Select Board’s approval, and could possibly require a zoning bylaw amendment to allow three-unit properties to be developed by right.

Still, Ippolito said the town’s current 3A compliance provides it with wiggle room for future commercial or mixed-use zoning.

“Let’s say we want to expand our community map and put it over the other side of Vinnin Square. Because we’re already in compliance, now we can say that that particular area can have commercial space on the ground floor. It means we’re not subject to the same limitations,” Ippolito said.

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