New zoning may boost city appeal


October 30, 2013
By Thor Jourgensen/The Daily Item

Home buyers who cannot afford downtown Boston will have a reason to look in Lynn once city planners use newly-adopted “smart zoning” to spur downtown residential development projects, according to a city councilor who represents downtown.

Ward 5 City Councilor Brendan Crighton said such zoning helps developers renovate downtown buildings into residences by offering them tax credits and exemptions designed to make potential projects attractive.

“A recent Boston Foundation report mentions Boston’s unaffordability to middle-class home buyers. We have the existing infrastructure right now,” Crighton said.

Fellow councilors support Crighton’s efforts to start a state review and approval process that, by year’s end, could make Lynn one of seven Massachusetts communities using the zoning to attract developers and, in turn, people shopping for condominiums or residential lofts.

Smart growth tax credits give city officials another tool, said Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development Director Charles Gaeta, to attract developers to downtown.

“We need to be at the table and aggressively going after initiatives,” Gaeta said.

Smart growth zoning gives tax credits and exemptions to developers converting downtown buildings into residences to help reduce project costs. The exemption agreements are signed by developers and city officials with an agreement that 80 percent or more of the housing units in a development are sold at market rates.

“The idea is to diversify housing stock,” Crighton said.

Zoning changes spearheaded by former Ward 5 Councilor James Cowdell and his colleagues set the stage, Crighton said, for developers to take an interest in downtown Lynn eight years ago and convert its old multi-story industrial buildings into residential housing.

Developers in the last decade converted the former Boston Machine Works building on Willow Street and Goldberg Furniture building on Oxford Street into loft residences and condominiums as well as buildings on Munroe and Essex streets.

Current downtown projects include converting the former Arnold’s Stationery at 33 Central Square into work and living space for artists. The project’s $1 million price tag has doubled and the city Economic Development and Industrial Corporation secured the building for the winter months while city officials look for money or a new plan to complete the project.

Construction is underway on Andrew Street, where Water Street Retail Limited Liability Corporation is building a Dollar Store. Water Street’s Stephen Stapinski said he also wants to build residential and retail projects downtown but said he is waiting to meet with city development officials to discuss zoning changes needed for his projects.

Councilors said smart growth plans parallel previous city efforts to attract developers interested in renovating and marketing the proximity of downtown buildings to the Market Street commuter rail station.

Council President Timothy Phelan and Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci pushed for zoning changes for a proposed 78-apartment project on Washington Street at Smith and Sagamore streets. Phelan called the Sagamore Hill project an opportunity to “create a walkable environment” in a residential area just blocks from downtown and the Market Street commuter rail station.

“It’s housing near transportation. We have been working day in and day out on this hand in hand with Charlie Gaeta,” Phelan said.

Zoning changes for the Sagamore project allow the apartment building to be up to five stories tall and changes approved on Oct. 22 by the council adjust off-street parking requirements.

“This does a great job adding a housing incentive together with transportation,” said Councilor at large Daniel Cahill.



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