Developing Story at Lynn City Hall: Nicholson Changing the Planning Process


 By Adam Bass |  Item Live | February 15, 2022

Mayor Jared Nicholson has announced that the city has created a new committee — the Lynn Development Team — which will be responsible for streamlining the review and discussion process for prospective developers. 

The team will consist of Nicholson, the ward councilor for where the proposed project would be located; Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn (EDIC/Lynn) Executive Director James Cowdell; Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) Executive Director Charles Gaeta; Principal City Planner Aaron Clausen; Inspectional Services Department (ISD) Chief Michael Donovan and Director of Community Development James Marsh.  

Nicholson said the team will also consist of members from other departments, such as the Lynn Fire Department, Lynn Water & Sewer Commission, and the Department of Public Works (DPW), as needed.


Mayor Jared Nicholson reflects on the new development process for the City of Lynn during an interview with The Item's Editorial Board. (Jakob Menendez )


Nicholson told The Item that this team will be an initial step for developers seeking to build in Lynn and would make a recommendation to the City Council, which is the special-permit granting authority. He said city councilors have told him that they view the team as being modeled after the City Council’s Recreational Cannabis Site Plan Review Committee, which approves recreational-marijuana businesses before they seek a special permit from the full council. 

“This is an important step forward to harness the momentum with development,” said Nicholson. “It will help move projects through and we are excited about the potential.”

The development team was established through a resolution, proposed by Nicholson and City Council President Jay Walsh, which was approved by the council last week. The resolution is aimed at formalizing a process for relevant city departments’ collaboration with each other, the council and the mayor’s office. Its goal is also to streamline the process for property owners, business owners, developers, companies or organizations that are interested in becoming a part of the city of Lynn, Nicholson’s office said. 

Nicholson said the development team is not only aimed at residential development, but will also be focused on bringing commercial development to Lynn that will bring jobs to the city. He said there is also a focus on development in the life-sciences sector. 

“We want all types of housing that fit well with concerns that are addressed,” said Nicholson. “This includes transit-oriented housing and development of commercial and industrial growth that supports jobs that benefit Lynn, such as life sciences.”

Nicholson said the process will also benefit developers, who will know who to contact when seeking to build in the city. Prior to the creation of this team — which is already weighing two to three development proposals — there was some confusion about what the process was, not only among prospective builders, but also among the City Council when it came time to approve or deny a special permit for a project, Nicholson and Walsh explained.   

For example, former Mayor Thomas M. McGee said the city’s Planning Department, EDIC/Lynn, and LHAND were not contacted about an 181-unit, mixed-use development that received unanimous approval from the City Council in September 2021. McGee said that he was in favor of a transit-oriented development at the site, rather than what was approved by the council at 50 Silsbee St./55 Friend St in Ward 4.; the site had long been considered a key transit-oriented development site, he said at the time.  

Nicholson said this project is an example of what has historically been seen with confusion around the development process in Lynn. Historically, there have been developments proposed in Lynn that the mayor’s office, certain departments, and city councilors have not been aware of, he said. 

Cowdell said that in the past, developers would often be sent to different departments, city councilors or the mayor’s office at random to propose projects. This would cause confusion and miscommunication among City Hall officials when trying to plan development meetings, he said.

“If a developer walked into City Hall, they were sent to inspectional services, EDIC, the mayor’s office or to City Council,” said Cowdell. “They could meet with one department and then immediately get sent to another. It has been like this for the past several years.”

Walsh said the lack of proper process also became confusing for the City Council, which sometimes did not know much, if anything, about the project they were being asked to approve a special permit for. Now, there will be a recommendation from the development team, and the ward councilor for each proposed project will be involved throughout the process, he said. 

“It just got really confusing,” said Walsh. “There’s a clear process now.” 

However, while the resolution calls for the establishment of a development team and an aim to streamline the process in the city, Nicholson said that a resolution is not binding. He and Walsh said they plan to take additional steps to formalize the process, which could include the approval of a more formal ordinance. This would be a collaboration between the mayor’s office and City Council, Nicholson said. 

“I’m really excited about this,” said Nicholson. “I think it’s a great step forward. It’s not the perfect solution. It’s not codified in some way. We’re going to work towards that.”

Cowdell said EDIC/Lynn will meet with prospective developers first and then schedule a meeting with the new development team. These meetings are private, but public input will be allowed during future meetings if the development were to move forward, such as City Council, Planning Board, and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings. 

But Nicholson said there could be situations where the development team makes a recommendation on a project and the City Council opts for a different decision. 

Also under consideration will be how the city’s housing-production plan fits into future development, which Nicholson said should be inclusive, in that it benefits the city as a whole. 

Approved last spring, the plan recommends strategies to increase the city’s affordable-housing stock. To that end, four students from the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge are currently conducting a study in Lynn aimed at increasing that housing production.

Gaeta, a member of the development team, said he will keep the housing plan in mind when considering proposals.

“Our priority is to create additional affordable housing,” said Gaeta. “We will also keep an eye on the Harvard Kennedy School study to find out about the required percentage of affordable housing.” 

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