Opposition to Elm Place project coalesces in Swampscott

Swampscott Equity Association

Two new grass-roots groups are fighting a proposed five-story, 128-unit affordable housing project on Elm Place, saying the apartment complex is simply too big for the neighborhood and the town.

“It’s a behemoth,” said Anne Driscoll, chair of the Swampscott for Equity Association. “It’s a $60 million project and we’re the ones that will be living with it. We need to slow down the process and take a breath. Everything has been happening at lightning speed.”

Driscoll’s group is calling for an independent study of the project and is hiring an attorney.

“We would like to see … with such an enormous project, with enormous impact… some kind of assessment of what the impact will be on traffic, parking, town resources, public safety and water and sewer.”

WinnCompanies wants to build a five-story building with a mix of affordable housing (64%) and market-rate apartments. Most units are studio or one-bedroom apartments, but there are some two- and three-bedroom options. The proposal includes 109 parking spaces. (The site is near the train station and Winn’s expectation is that some residents will not have cars.)

Driscoll warned that as many as 370 people could live in the building at once. She came up with that number by adding up the number of bedrooms.

“Swampscott is the third most densely-populated town out of 312 in Massachusetts and this project, as proposed, greatly exacerbates that,” said Maura McMahon, another member of the Swampscott Equity Association. “There is no other five-story building in the town, nor is there any other project of similar scale, size and density.”

Concerned Citizens Against Elm Place Development is the second group fighting the project.

“Our goal is to get the scale of the development greatly reduced,” said member Alison Leiby, who lives on Pitman Road across from the site. “The neighborhood is mostly two-story homes.  I’m absolutely not against affordable housing. It’s just a ridiculous scale.”

More than 650 residents have signed an online petition sponsored by Concerned Citizens, asking that the town reject the Elm Place proposal and look into a smaller alternative. Some people who signed left messages, including Tom Hains.

“Traffic around town has grown considerably over the last several years and our schools in particular, are already stressed. Developers will always look to build as many units on a site as possible but at what cost to the town as a whole. The town needs to start looking critically at the scale of the developments that have been and continue to be proposed and be prepared to say no.”

What’s next?

The Elm Place project will be discussed at the following meetings:

  • Swampscott Finance Committee, Feb. 1
  • Swampscott Board of Selectmen, Feb. 3
  • Zoning Board of Appeals, Feb. 23

Town officials and residents have until February 12 to send comments about the proposal to the Massachusetts Housing and Community Development.  Those comments/concerns can be sent to MHCD Associate Director Catherine Racer at catherine.racer@mass.gov.