Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn unveils third waterfront plan

LYNN — The city is developing two master plans to reimagine its waterfront with residential, commercial and industrial development, park space and public access. A third plan that will help implement and enforce the provisions of both was laid out for the first time on Tuesday night.

The third component of the planning process for the transformation of the city’s 305-acre waterfront site is an update of the Lynn Municipal Harbor Plan, which was approved by the state in 2010 and expires after a decade.

The plan, subject to state approval, was presented before a roomful of residents and elected officials at Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development.

A Municipal Harbor Plan states a municipality’s goals, standards and policies to guide public and private use of land and water within the jurisdiction of the Public Waterfront Act, or Chapter 91, which was created to regulate waterways.

The MHP amendment is meant to help coordinate local, state and federal regulations along the waterfront and ensure the implementation of the updated Lynn Waterfront Master Plan and the Lynn Waterfront Open Space Master Plan.

In addition to its pending expiration, an update of the Lynn Municipal Harbor Plan was necessary because the “ambitious plan” had some assumptions in it that hadn’t panned out, according to Matthew Littell, principal at Utile Inc., a Boston-based urban design and architecture firm which was selected to compile the Waterfront Master Plan by the Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn.

It proved difficult to enforce, and a renewal was recommended by the city and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Littell said.

“We started the process as a simple Waterfront Master Plan update to the 2007 plan,” Littell said. “We realized that to really facilitate some of the goals we had for the waterfront, we had to couple that with a Municipal Harbor Plan amendment, which is now at loggerheads with the (new) plan.”

What characterizes the Waterfront Master Plan update, Littell said, is an acknowledgement of some of the waterfront’s existing uses, as well as navigating through the challenges of numerous ownership of its parcels.

Consolidating those different properties was an assumption of the previous master plan, but it’s difficult to achieve, as different owners have different project timelines, Littell said.

“We want to work with some of the existing proposals that are happening right now and capitalize on some of those efforts, instead of waiting for it happen all at once,” he said.

Municipal harbor plans are meant to not only plan out what the community wants to do with the harbor, but get some relief or amplification from state regulations, according to Tom Skinner, a consultant with Durand & Anastas Environmental Strategies.

Chapter 91 regulations dictate that if a developer wanted to fill in a waterfront area, such as with a pier along a wharf, that person or entity would have to get a license to show that it would be used for a proper public purpose. For instance, the pier could be encouraging navigation or commerce, according to Skinner.

The definition of a proper public purpose has evolved over time, he said, with state regulations for waterfront development aimed at encouraging pedestrian access to water, encouraging public uses and ensuring private use of waterfront land serves a proper public purpose, Skinner said.

Skinner said strategies to improve public benefits along the waterfront are being explored with the Municipal Harbor Plan. For instance, increased building height could be offset by providing more open space.

Beyond the Municipal Harbor Plan amendment, Littell said other strategies to implement the Waterfront Master Plan are being explored. Additional regulatory enforcement could include zoning changes, which are subject to City Council approval.

For instance, a plan wouldn’t create a bowling alley or movie theater, which one resident suggested as desired uses on the waterfront, but zoning could be created that would be permissive, according to Littell.

Concerns raised at the forum were similar to the last Waterfront Master Plan meeting, with several residents upset about a plan that showed affordable housing was not feasible under current market conditions.

Littell said that determination was made after studying inclusionary zoning that showed although the planned developments are very large, conditions would not support affordable housing.

He said if the city wanted to get ahead of the curve and involve affordable housing on the waterfront, it would require the involvement of nonprofit affordable housing developers, but there haven’t been any developers that “fall under that umbrella yet.”

A major goal for a reimagined waterfront is bringing as much mixed-use to the district as possible, Littell said. For instance, he said the closure of Garelick Farms created a challenging site, which is not viable for residential development, but could be ideal for industrial with a mixed-use component.

The Waterfront Master Plan study, which will include the Municipal Harbor Plan amendment and work in tandem with the Open Space Master Plan, is costing the city more than $90,000 and is scheduled to be completed later this year.

 

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