The Most Important Tool

By State Representative Brendan Crighton

Early on in my first term on the City Council, an experienced City Hall employee and friend gave me a copy of Lynn’s zoning ordinance and told me that it would be the most important tool I would have as a municipal official. While at the time I didn’t appreciate the wisdom in that advice, I am very proud of the progress we have made as a city to improve our zoning and land use policies over the past few years.

For anyone who has dared to open the City of Lynn’s Zoning Code, originally approved in 1925, it doesn’t take long to realize it’s not an enjoyable and leisurely read. While zoning code is very technical by nature, our ordinance was also an unreadable collection of piecemeal changes, filled with many inconsistencies and errors.

While most people might look at an ordinance in the shape that ours was in and see an uncomfortable read, a developer looking to invest sees red flags about a community’s willingness to do business. A small business owner sees a series of daunting headaches. A land use expert sees the loss of an opportunity to positively shape a city’s direction.

Many of the needed updates were fairly straightforward technical changes intended to make the ordinance easier to navigate and bring it up to date. More challenging was taking on the antiquated philosophical approach to city planning the document reflected. The old and failed attitude was to be overly restrictive and require nearly all developers or businesses to come before the City Council for special permits. This system was often time-consuming, costly, and discouraging to potential private investment.

Our new approach removes obstacles for the uses we want and restricts those uses that we do not. In areas where we want to encourage new residents and businesses such as the Downtown, Waterfront or Boston Street corridor, we now allow restaurants, fitness centers, arts and cultural entities, and most importantly mixed-use residential development.

Our new policy also streamlines the City’s site plan review process and requires that technical experts efficiently review major development sites. This approach will prove that cities can both encourage economic development and protect their neighborhoods at the same time.

The progress we have made wouldn’t have been possible without the collaborative efforts of so many including city and state officials, the business community, outside land use experts, and civic-minded residents.  Thank you to all who participated.

To those of you who are thinking about investing in Lynn, I hope the changes will help you help our community get to the next level. Please know that your input will continue to be welcomed and valued. It won’t take another ninety years to update the code; it will be an ongoing process.

We have declared what we want to be as a city and adopted a zoning policy that reflects that vision. Our new zoning combined with our expedited permitting process, infrastructure investment, Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP), and Complete Streets policy have set the table for an economic revival in Lynn.

Though my time on the City Council is ending, I look forward to working with local, state and federal officials as part of our first-of-a-kind Lynn Economic Advancement and Development (LEAD) team. Lynn’s time is now and with the necessary tools and collaboration in place, we can make our vision a reality.

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