Swampscott weighs in on Vinnin Square

The audience of Swampscott residents looks at a study of Vinnin Square. (Emma Fringuelli)

SWAMPSCOTT — As the town creates design guidelines for the redevelopment of Vinnin Square, residents identified affordable housing, environmental sustainability, and walkability as elements they would like to see in the redesigned district.

Residents packed into the Swampscott High School’s cafeteria Tuesday evening to share their visions for the commercial district’s future landscape, architecture, and pedestrian accessibility.

In May, Town Meeting voted 152-13 to rezone the district for mixed-use commercial and residential purposes. Using MarketStreet Lynnfield, Framingham’s Nobscot Village, and the Woburn Village as models, the town plans to transform the commercial strip into an outdoor lifestyle center with apartments, green spaces, and retail stores.

Planning Board member Angela Ippolito kicked off the public discussion with a summary of the original Town Meeting vote and an overview of the town’s motivation for the redevelopment.

“If you look at some of the ways strip malls were designed in the ’70s — the quality of retail, the interactions, the way people park, and the attractions with these old models — it’s failing. It’s a model that worked at one time and doesn’t work anymore,” Ippolito said.

Following Ippolito’s remarks, Metropolitan Area Planning Council Land Use Principal Planner Josh Fiala took the mic and led the approximately 50-person crowd through a demonstration of the MAPC’s guidelines for the Nobscot Village and Woburn Village. He invited members of the crowd to text their responses to real-time survey questions, the results of which were displayed on a screen.

The results showed that roughly 48% of those who were in attendance visit Vinnin Square more than once a day, 42% visit the current commercial district at least once a week, 6% visit at least once a month, and 4% visit at least once a year.

Fiala instructed the crowd to digitally submit elements for design they would like to see in the reimagined square. Among some of the most frequently mentioned keywords projected on the screen were “environment,” “sustainable,” “affordable,” and “housing.”

Additionally, multiple attendees suggested the new Vinnin Square should be walkable, and others listed the presence of solar panels as a design element they would like to see.

Fiala also stressed the importance of placemaking in the area’s redevelopment. He said the town intends to transform the area of Vinnin Square between Essex Street and Paradise Road into a hub that attracts people from across the region.

In response, Historical Commission Chair Nancy Schultz commented that the redeveloped lifestyle centers in Woburn and Framingham were “cookie-cutter” developments. She said she hopes to see Swampscott redesign the area with elements that pay homage to the town’s history and culture.

“In Swampscott, we want something that speaks to our long and storied history, a sense of Essex County and Swampscott’s maritime history,” Schultz said. “If you’re really thinking about this as a regional destination, we have to do much better than the buildings that we saw. As far as those pictures go, they look like buildings in every other community.”

Fiala took note of Schultz’s suggestion, rephrasing it as the desire to build an “authentic sense of place.” He added that the town plans to reduce the area’s current parking-lot size and replace parking space with green space.

“Reconfiguring buildings to define outdoor spaces, that’s also very important. We’re creating places for people to gather indoors and outdoors and have green space between… (We’re) not removing parking from the equation because it’s needed for functional aspects, but (we’re) reducing it as a primary property,” Fiala said.

Fiala said the town and MAPC plan to complete draft guidelines for the development by the end of November, with the goal of outlining its final design guidelines and standards by the end of December.

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