Swampscott is considering mid-sized housing in 3A zoning
SWAMPSCOTT — As the Planning Board works to draft new zoning bylaws that would allow multifamily housing, it is trying to balance studio or one-bedroom apartments with “missing middle” housing, such as townhomes and courtyard buildings.
To comply with Section 3A of the 2021 Massachusetts Zoning Code, MBTA communities or municipalities located within one-half mile of an MBTA rail line, subway, bus stop, or ferry terminal must have a multifamily residential zoning district near a public transit stop. . Because Swampscott has a rail station, it is considered an MBTA community and is required to establish a multifamily residential zoning district by the end of 2024.
Two weeks ago, the Select Board approved a zoning district map prepared by the Planning Board, which proposes three separate multifamily zoning districts, which include two adjacent areas in Fenin Square and another surrounding the rail station.
The Select Board approved the zoning maps, so the Planning Board is now tasked with writing the zoning bylaw amendments associated with the areas before a vote at the May 2024 Town Meeting.
Planning Board Member Angela Ippolito said that since City Meeting approved the creation of a mixed-use residential and retail zoning district in Finnen Square, the designated areas already comply with Section 3A multifamily housing density requirements.
“No matter how we mapped it differently in those areas, we came up with a grid of more than 15 units per acre on average,” Ippolito said. “Obviously the zoning we passed in May actually allows for denser housing in that area, and forces the owner to include retail in the project. The new 3A ordinance allows you to include retail with multifamily zoning, but you can’t actually “Have a clause that says you have to put retail there.”
Planning Board Chairman Michael Broscia read an email from Vice Chairman Ted Dooley to the Planning Board. The email suggested that the proposed zoning bylaws would allow for “missing middle” dwellings or structures such as townhomes, four-family complexes or townhouses that would be classified as intermediate between large apartment complexes and single-family homes.
Broscia agreed with Dooley’s opinion that “missing middle” housing blends better into the city’s look than large-scale, modular housing complexes.
“It’s kind of a pushback between the kind of market version of housing these days, which is more like a five-story or one-story model. We’re seeing a lot of that, and aesthetically, there’s some pushback toward it,” Broscia said. Ted is kind of into it.”
When Broscia asked if bylaws could limit the number of one-bedroom or studio units allowed within a building, Ippolito said she was unsure if the city had that legal authority under Section 3A.
“I think anything about the size of the building or the shape of the building or anything like that that could be considered a restriction on the number of units could be an issue. However, because we’re already committed, that may not be the case.”
Planning and Land Use Director Peter Kane suggested that if the council wanted to encourage mid-sized housing development, it could either do so using design guideline recommendations or by writing zoning regulations that limit the number of units allowed per structure.
By restricting the number of units allowed in each structure, the council will encourage developers to consider “missing median” housing without impacting the unit density requirements per acre in Section 3A, Kane said.
Before the May town meeting, Ippolito said the board plans to hold at least two public hearings to hear community input on the proposed bylaw changes.
“People have this sense of impending doom about this (Section 3A) thing, so overall, I think it would be good to get out in front of them and provide a lot of opportunities to comment,” Broscia said.