New zoning is being proposed in Melrose that would allow for a broader mix of uses around the Cedar Park and Highlands neighborhood train stations.
The Commuter Rail Corridor Zoning would run along Essex and Tremont streets, an area that includes both stations.
Current zoning allows a mix of uses that includes residential and light industry such as auto repair shops and a lumber yard. The new zoning would expand possible uses to include assisted living, apartments, restaurants, retailers, and office space.
Melrose also has a third stop on the Haverhill-to-North Station commuter rail line, Wyoming Hill on West Wyoming Avenue.
Mayor Robert J. Dolan said the expanded zoning is an essential step to encourage new development in two key transit areas.
“Right now what we have is a hodgepodge of zoning that doesn’t allow for much that anyone could work with today,” Dolan said.
The city last year received a $960,000 MassWorks grant to make improvements to the area around the Highlands train station. New sidewalks, street lights, parking spaces, and other improvements are planned, Dolan said.
“Our goal is to make this area more accessible to walkers and cyclists by improving the streetscape and bringing in more businesses,” Dolan said.
In the last year, the city has worked with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to develop a plan to encourage new growth around the commuter rail and encourage residents to take the train to Boston rather than drive. The regional planning agency received a $4 million federal Sustainable Communities grant to identify opportunities around rail stations in Beverly, Melrose, and Quincy.
In Melrose, the city and planning council held community meetings last year to get ideas, and ultimately developed a so-called overlay zoning district to create additional uses for the rail corridor.
“We’re not looking to change the underlying zoning,” said Denise Gaffey, the city’s planning director. “We’re proposing another layer of uses than what would normally be allowed.”
The overlay district also would allow larger developments. Building heights of four stories — up to 50 feet — would be permitted. The current zoning allows a maximum of two stories, of up to 20 feet.
A fifth story also could be added, as long as the development is set back 20 feet from the street, according to the proposal. “The bigger change is allowing for more density,” said Gaffey.
A draft of the proposal was presented at a public meeting on April 16.
“I agree generally with the purpose of the overlay,” said Richard Connolly, a former Planning Board member who lives on Union Street, off the rail corridor on Tremont Street. “If the current landowners wish to do something other than light industry, they can make it mixed use, commercial, or residential.”
Ellen Katz, cochairwoman of the city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the overlay could encourage a more active lifestyle.
“Overall, the MAPC study had some interesting suggestions to make the area more attractive and ways to make it easier to walk around. It seemed like a good idea,” said Katz, who does not live near the rail corridor.
The overlay is far from certain, however. The Planning Board’s zoning subcommittee is giving close scrutiny to the proposal. Suggestions from the public during the April 16 meeting are being reviewed, and if possible, worked into the zoning, Gaffey said.
“We’ve gotten some great, positive feedback,” she said.
Once the zoning subcommittee finishes its work, the draft proposal will be put to the full Planning Board for a vote.
A joint public hearing with the Board of Aldermen also must be scheduled, and all changes to the city’s zoning ordinance must be approved by that board. The goal is to have the new zoning in place by June, Dolan said.