On Aug. 31, the town presented a public meeting on Zoom to discuss the zoning of the former middle school site on Pauline St.
The meeting was led by Geoffrey Morrison-Logan from VHB and Robin Stein, Winthrop’s municipal law representative from KP Law. Also in attendance were Town Manager Austin Faison; Council Vice President Jim Letterie, Councilors Peter Christopher, Barbara Flockhart, Tracy Honan and Stephen Ruggiero; and members of the public.
“I know how important this is to the town,” said Faison, “getting something on the site that the town is excited about.”
The site in question is divided into two parcels: Parcel 1 at 151 Pauline St., a 2.94-acre parcel that includes an auditorium and a skating rink; and Parcel 2 at 141 Pauline St., .82 acres that include the former middle school building (see image). The school was built in 1972 and closed in 2016.
The discussion about the redevelopment of the parcels dates back to 2013 during the Middle High School Referendum. Winthrop’s Economic Development Citizens Advisory Committee also worked on the project. A joint subcommittee was recently established to renew discussions, though talks have necessarily slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
KP Law has reviewed the site to be sure that there was no Article 97 appropriation of the land that would prevent it from being developed.
Presenters referenced the Center Business District (CBD) Master Plan to remind residents what they had prioritized in terms of development in the area. These included signage, bicycle parking, maximum setbacks, minimum stories and lot coverage, adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and a review on restrictions of allowable uses. One possible option is a Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District, also known as a Chapter 40R District.
The process to change the zoning for any plot is outlined in the Town Charter. It starts with a referral to the Planning Board followed by public hearings. The Finance Committee and other committees may review the proposal and report their recommendations to the Town Council, which will ultimately vote to adopt, reject or amend the change.
Presenters sought public input on building use, building form and parking.
Dotty Donofrio of Precinct 4 read from a prepared statement in which she expressed her support for preserving the skating rink and prioritizing recreation. She also suggested transforming the middle school into a vocational school for young people in Winthrop to learn trades and prepare to enter the workforce. She added that the sight could also be used for night programs offering GED or nursing classes.
Precinct 1 resident Tim said he was in favor of either a vocational school or a charter school, and emphasized that any businesses that moved into the space would have to be small. He also shared his support for making the area bike-friendly.
Wendy Page of Precinct 2 was in favor of zoning the two parcels individually. She suggested including Parcel 1 in the CBD and rezoning Parcel 2 as residential. In terms of building usage, she would like to see programming for children.
Another resident agreed with zoning the two parcels differently, with open space requirements for each. He floated the idea of conducting a community impact study to determine how development would impact the town “on a human scale”, taking into account design and environmental elements.
Caller Peter Gill recommended selling Parcel 2 to developers to turn it into duplex condos.
Resident Bob preferred to create “a homogenous area” in the CBD, with the same rules applying to the two parcels.
Council Vice President Letterie urged the public to think about “why we want to develop”, whether to increase housing or bring more money into the town. He mentioned wanting to preserve the rink while using the gym and auditorium for live performances. However, Councilor Honan replied that the gym and auditorium had been deemed unusable and would need to be torn down.
A resident from Precinct 5 urged preservation of the skate rink while also exploring options for a larger recreation or community center with programming for children.
Resident Carla Fitzpatrick also expressed her interest in saving the rink and opposed the suggestion of building five-story condos.
“We’re a small town,” she said. “Our buildings should look similar.”
The Town will now be given the opportunity to reflect on the public commentary. It may conduct a community impact study before signing off on any development. Then a draft outline and timeline for developing zoning recommendations will be created.
“We’ve been talking about this for years,” said Councilor Honan. “We want to get this done.”
A recording of the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the town website.