Council and Planning Board Hold Zoning Meeting

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

Winthrop has change coming in the future and Tuesday night town officials learned more about potential zoning work that may lie ahead.

William Reyelt, from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, gave an educational presentation to the Council and the Planning Board at a joint public hearing between the two boards Tuesday night.

The program the Council and the Planning Board are most interested in is Chapter 40R, which is part of the commonwealth’s Smart Growth Zoning Act. It is intended to encourage cities and towns to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable housing units, to be located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.

Communities with approved Smart Growth Zoning Districts included Chelsea, Swampscott, Marblehead, Lynnfield, Boston and Belmont. The program also includes zoning incentive payments to the community. In some instances there are also school reimbursements depending on how many students live in the development.

“The majority of the (40R) development is housing, but it could also be for a community center,” Reyelt said.

There are four zoning options for the old middle school area. It can revert to Residential A, a Special Development Overlay District (SDOD), Center Business District or Chapter 40R.

Although no specific project was mentioned everyone knew this was an opportunity to learn about potential zoning and use situations for the old middle-school property on Pauline Street.

“We all know we’re talking about the old middle school,” said resident Dick Dymes, who questioned where demolition costs would come from.

The process of utilizing Chapter 40R begins with an application from the town for a specific area with certain criteria. It can take up to 90 days to be approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Then the town has to adopt the zoning change. The entire process from the local and state level can take six months to a year, Reyelt said.

“This is a pretty massive undertaking,” said Planning Board Chairman David Stasio, who asked if other communities had a professional planner helping out. The answer was yes and one example was the use of the Pioneer Valley Regional Planning office in the Holyoke-Chicopee area.

Stasio asked for the public hearing to be continued to next month so his board has time to digest the information. He also pointed out that Winthrop has an old zoning code.

The two boards voted to continue the public hearing to next month.

The detailed presentation can be found on the town website and on WCAT.

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