Local Government and Politics, News

MAPC study recommends consolidated planning and development department for Lynn

LYNN — The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), enlisted to study how to build a planning committee, has recommended a strong core department that would coordinate planning and development functions across Lynn’s city government.

But Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi said the major roadblock with implementing a planning department is the city’s finances.

“We would need resources and funding before even creating this,” Lozzi said.

MAPC recommended a consolidated department, with a staff of eight to 12 personnel.

Staff would include a planning director, two to three senior planners, a community development director, one to two community development specialists, two to three junior planners and an administrative assistant, according to an MAPC presentation that was given to the City Council on Tuesday night.

Mark Fine, director of municipal collaboration for MAPC, declined to provide an estimate on how much it would cost to implement and staff a full department, but said the MAPC made the presentation with an awareness of the city’s financial difficulties.

“This isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight,” Fine said. “There is a lot of support that parties want to provide for Lynn to build planning capacity. I think there is an appetite to support Lynn. A lot of parties want to see Lynn succeed.”

Fine said the city could tap into funding from the public and private sector, while building up its planning department in a more structured manner, along with using resources it already has.

The city has been without a planning department, or city planner, for more than two decades, but has a community development department.

Under the “strong core planning department” recommendation, planning would handle development review and long-range planning, including master planning, zoning and transportation, while community development would manage grants, including community development block grants.

The positions would not all be new, as some existing staff could fill certain roles supplemented by new planners, according to the presentation.

The department would provide support for the planning board, zoning board of appeals (ZBA), City Council and the mayor, but a major reorganization and creation of a planning department would affect other departments that currently have planning functions, according to Fine.

Community development’s management of the city’s arts and cultural activities and grants could shift to a separate mayor’s office for arts and culture. The rest of the community development would largely merge with the planning department.

Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) and Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn (EDIC/Lynn) would remain independent, but would be coordinated under planning.

EDIC/Lynn would still lead on business development and engagement. LHAND would largely remain unchanged, retaining the lead role on housing development and affordability, but would work with the new department on development matters.

The inspectional services department would have a narrower focus on building inspection, permitting and facilities management, but would work closely with planning. A mayor’s planning/development council, staffed by the planning department, would facilitate across city government and support boards.

In October, the planning agency outlined short-term recommendations, which included two interim hires, a chief planner at a salary of $100,000 to $125,000 and a principal or senior planner at a salary of $75,000 to $90,000.

MAPC said then that Lynn’s challenges include not having a Master Plan for the city, no certified planner on the city’s payroll, a lack of capacity and support for the ZBA and zoning that hasn’t been looked at comprehensively in decades.

In addition, the MAPC said there’s no central department responsible for all the functions of a contemporary planning and development agency, and the residency requirement for a city planner was listed as an issue.

“We’re here because we want to see Lynn do as well as possible,” Fine told the City Council. “We think these changes could be helpful over the long term and obviously that’s for you to consider and deliberate against the many challenges and issues you’re looking at.”

The city was not responsible for the cost of the study, which was conducted through the MAPC’s Technical Assistance Program, which enables and assists municipalities in implementing projects.

 

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