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Lynn boards get the green light to resume meetings
By Gayla Cawley | June 11, 2020
LYNN — Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings, which have been suspended throughout the pandemic, have been cleared to resume, according to Mayor Thomas M. McGee.
The meetings will operate in a hybrid fashion, with board members meeting in-person in the City Council Chambers and the public watching live at home, with a chance to offer input by phone or through Zoom, McGee said.
Board members will be given the option to participate virtually as well and are not required to attend meetings in-person, according to City Council President Darren Cyr.
Cyr, along with representatives from the city’s law department and City Clerk’s office, met with municipal board members and Lynn Community TV on Monday at City Hall to come up with a format for how to proceed with the new type of virtual meetings, according to ZBA chairman Norm Cole.
“We’ve been anxious to go forward with the meetings,” said Cole. “We’re taking our continued cases at the first meeting and I’m probably thinking we’ll meet continuously a couple of weeks after that. Our goal is to get up and running. We’re going to test out the system in two weeks and take it from there.”
When the coronavirus shuttered government buildings, planning and zoning boards quickly switched to online meetings, but their counterparts’ meetings in Lynn have been put on hold since live sessions were canceled in mid-March. That left many people with business before the Lynn boards wondering when they would get a chance to be heard.
Planning and zoning boards play the lead role in cities and towns in determining how projects, ranging from major construction to adding a back deck, proceed.
McGee said ensuring public access to planning and zoning board meetings was key to their resumption. In past months, the city did not have the bandwidth to allow public input instantaneously, he said.
“Public access is really an important part of these meetings, so we want to take every precaution while keeping people safe,” said McGee. “We’re finalizing the online meeting platforms so the public (can) have access to those meetings. We’re hoping to have the protocols in the next day or so and by next week we should be able to start scheduling the meetings.”
If people don’t have access to Zoom, they can still follow the meetings live and call in by phone, said McGee, noting that those protocols should be helpful for older people who may not be as technologically savvy.
Robert Stilian, chairman of the Planning Board, said he’s had people contact him who are “scared to death” of not being able to come to City Hall to attend meetings. He said an 86-year-old woman who lives near a proposed development said she can’t hear well and was afraid of having to provide her input over the phone.
“I have had other calls and people are concerned about it,” said Stilian. “We take everything very seriously.”
Stilian said the Planning Board might opt to hold off on scheduling meetings until people are able to come in person to provide public input.
For example, the contentious Quinn/Judge Road subdivision proposal, which drew 100 people at a past Planning Board meeting, was tabled in February and remains outstanding.
“This is going to affect a lot of people’s lives,” said Stilian. “People want to make sure they can get their opinions out there. I’m just afraid we won’t be able to answer everybody’s questions.”
The development team’s attorney, Sam Vitali, has indicated he could get an extension for the project if the board needs one, according to Stilian, who said if Judge Road isn’t happening right now, there’s nothing else that would prompt the need for a meeting,
By comparison, the Zoning Board of Appeals has already scheduled their next meeting for Wednesday, June 24, said Cole, who explained boards need to advertise their meetings two weeks in advance.
The board has about 16 cases that members need to consider at their next meetings, Cole said.
Those applications include an expansion of a restaurant into an existing laundromat, the location of an auto repair facility, the conversion of a single-family home to a two-family home with an oversized garage, a petition for housing on North Common Street, and construction of townhouses off of Walnut Street.
“Our goal is to pretty much hear every case and get this thing resolved hopefully within a month and be up to date, said Cole. “We think this is a reasonable attempt by the city to allow the public to have input.
“The best case by far is to be able to have a hearing where people can come in and voice their opposition or support, but this is the best we can do so we’re going forward with it. We’re ready to go and hopefully it will be positive.”
Cyr said the planning and zoning boards, the Conservation Commission and the Lynn License Commission will use the City Council Chambers for their meetings.
“If they want to use it five nights a week, I have no issue with it,” said Cyr, who noted City Council subcommittee meetings have also been moved to the Council Chambers.