LYNN — Mayor Jared Nicholson, in a wide-ranging interview with The Item’s editorial board Monday, touted the work his administration has done to promote affordable housing in the city and provided updates on the search for a full-time superintendent, and a $20 million infusion of federal funding into the Lynnway, and the Vision Lynn initiative.
Nicholson said the federal grant investing in the Lynnway was an “exciting development” and represents an opportunity for the city to better connect its waterfront with other neighborhoods.
“The Lynnway needs a lot of work to improve traffic to improve safety to improve the streetscape, so you don’t have this current situation where the waterfront is kind of cut off from the rest of the city. And so there needs to be a lot of planning, a lot of community input gathered about how to make the most of this opportunity but it is a great opportunity,” he said.
The funding would provide for the creation of a center bus lane on the Lynnway, and Nicholson said that the potential for the new lane to improve traffic could help the city achieve its goal of increasing accessibility to the waterfront.
“The argument from MassDOT, about the dedicated bus lanes, is it actually improves traffic and the integration of the rest of the community with the waterfront is going to be helpful for a couple of reasons. One, the waterfront is a tremendous asset and that being cut off from the rest of the city serves no one, certainly not the city’s economic development aspirations and hopes to include the community and what’s happening down the waterfront,” Nicholson said.
Plans for the new bus lane are not yet at the design stage, and Nicholson said it would take years for the project to materialize.
When asked how an extra lane dedicated to buses on a congested commercial road would improve traffic, Nicholson said MassDOT’s experience with dedicated bus lanes in Boston shows a traffic improvement because it mitigates buses pulling in and out of traffic.
Nicholson said that he and his colleagues on the City Council have planned a trip to Boston to learn more about MassDOT’s success with dedicated bus lanes.
On the process of selecting a new permanent superintendent of schools, Nicholson said that alongside the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, the city put out a call for community members to join a search committee. The deadline to apply for the committee, Nicholson said, is Aug. 24.
“MASC was hired and MASC is going to come to the next school committee meeting, or the first school committee meeting in September, to lay out a timeline of what the plan is,” he said. “We did this just four years ago, so I think we have a pretty good playbook about what we want to do to get input from the community about what we’re looking for.”
Nicholson added that as chair of the School Committee, he would like to see a new superintendent of schools who has experience with school districts similar to Lynn, has a vision for the district’s future, and someone who has strong communication skills.
“I’m absolutely excited to play an important role as chair in the search because it is a tremendously important position for the future of our community. I think that communication is a huge need and skill that the superintendent has to have. I think the vision of where we want to go as a district is really important, that it’s a vision that we can all rally around, and, you know, I think the experience is something else that we really want to elevate in the process, particularly experienced with similar districts,” Nicholson said.
When asked what the greatest issue facing the city of Lynn is, Nicholson said that he believed that it was the city’s high cost of living. As a result, his administration has put a tremendous focus on implementing affordable housing.
“Especially with the uncertainty around the economy, and people’s livelihoods and the way rents are going, I think that is a huge priority,” he said.
Nicholson said the city is in the process of appointing trustees to the newly created Affordable Housing Trust Fund and has a number of deeply affordable housing projects in the pipeline, including the former Marshall Middle School site, and the School Street Lot.
The city doled out more than $35 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds this summer, and Nicholson said the city intends to implement a community-oriented process to spread the $20 million in second round ARPA funding this fall.
Community engagement is a key tenet of the way Nicholson’s administration has approached important topics in his nearly nine months in office.
“We’ve had lots of opportunities for community engagement. Some might worry about engagement fatigue or the number of open calls we’ve had. But we think it’s important, and we’re grateful for the input,” Nicholson said. “Vision Lynn is certainly an important one. We did it extensively during the ARPA process. We’re going to be doing it during the superintendent search, and I’ve done it previously. And education issues. For example, the plan around the Student Opportunity Act and the district’s strategic plan, that was two years ago.”
One of the largest community engagement efforts undertaken by the city, Nicholson said, has been the Vision Lynn survey, which asks community members to share their issues of infrastructure development, park clean-up, and accessibility. The results of the project will be shown at the city’s “Lynnside Out” festival on Aug. 27.
“You’ll see some maps there that sort of break down what growth might look like in different parts of the city down to the sort of street, neighborhood level,” Nicholson said. “Creating these walkable neighborhoods that are supported by neighborhood businesses, community businesses really improves everyone’s quality of life and also creates these inclusive economic opportunities.”
Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at [email protected].