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A big project is coming to the Lynn waterfront, helped along by a $45 million tax break

A Boston-based developer won approval for 850-unit apartment complex along the Lynnway at the mouth of the Saugus River

A proposed $450 million apartment complex on the Lynn waterfront, near the mouth of the Saugus River, recently won a tax break approval from the City Council.Arrowstreet

The largest housing development in Lynn’s history took a major step forward this week with the City Council approving a $45 million tax break for a proposed 850-unit apartment project along the Lynnway at the mouth of the Saugus River, despite protests from dozens who say the project does too little to create housing Lynn residents can afford.

Boston-based developer Samuels & Associates has proposed the $450 million project on a long-vacant 17.5-acre stretch of waterfront property, just over the General Edwards Bridge from Revere. The site is home to a recently renovated fishing pier, and little else. Samuels envisions three apartment buildings, ranging in height from seven to 12 stories, along with a waterfront plaza and an eight-acre public park.

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“This site — specifically, this project — represents the culmination of really decades of effort to make the waterfront into something we can be proud of as a community,” said Lynn Mayor Jared C. Nicholson. “We really want something, now that the waterfront is starting to develop, that connects the waterfront with the rest of the city.”

Lynn's South Harbor project is expected to have 850 apartments in three buildings, along with 26,000 square feet of retail and restaurantsArrowstreet

Of the 850 units, Samuels plans to set aside 85 for households that make 60 percent of the area median income — which, for a family of four, is $89,040. That 10 percent figure aligns with citywide inclusionary zoning regulations the Lynn City Council approved a year ago. Samuels, however, was not required to build any affordable housing on the South Harbor site. They’d filed a development plan under Lynn’s prior zoning rules, which didn’t require any units to be restricted to certain incomes; Nicholson and the Samuels team later negotiated the 10 percent rate.

As Nicholson spoke in favor of the project at a City Council meeting Tuesday, dozens of protestors held up neon-yellow signs behind him, proclaiming: “This is NOT inclusive development” and “No tax break to create a segregated neighborhood!” Underneath the bold black letters, the signs were translated into Spanish. Some 43 percent of Lynn’s population is Hispanic or Latino, and the city has sizable Black and Asian populations as well.

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Even 85 units set aside at affordable rates will be out of reach to most Lynn renters, said Isaac Hodes, director of housing justice advocacy group Lynn United for Change. That’s largely because rents are based on incomes across the entire metro area; for the census tract where the project is proposed, the median household income is just $36,300, federal data show.

The long-vacant South Harbor site on Lynn's waterfront could be transformed by an 850-unit apartment complex.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“We want development to be inclusive, to truly benefit all the segments of Lynn, including lower-income working class people and communities of color,” Hodes said. “This project, the scale of it — it’s huge. It’s practically a new neighborhood. ... With the massive tax break the city is giving, there really should be more inclusion and affordability.”

Nicholson recognized the opponents at Tuesday’s meeting, thanking them for attending and saying he too wanted to see more affordable units across Lynn.

“There is certainly, certainly, a need in our city for affordable units at lower levels,” he said.

The council on Tuesday approved a development agreement between the city and Samuels, and to reduce the amount of property taxes paid by the project by $45 million over 20 years. The site currently generates about $60,000 a year in property taxes; at full buildout, it would generate an estimated $120 million over 30 years.

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The South Harbor project in Lynn is expected to have an eight-acre public park and waterfront promenade.Arrowstreet

Expanding commercial development in Lynn is a priority, said City Councilor Rick Starbard. Like thousands of others, he’s frequently driving across the bridge between Lynn and Revere multiple times a day.

“It’s an embarrassment, on both sides of the bridge — that site in particular,” Starbard said. “We need commercial development in this city, and we need it badly, and this is what will help drive it. And if not, then we’re done.”

City Councilor Nicole McClain, who was the sole no-vote on the tax break, expressed concern that there had not been adequate community outreach. Her office received more than 90 emails protesting the $45 million deal.

“Every stone, in my opinion, was not overturned,” McClain said. “These are not people that don’t want green space. These are not people who don’t want to enjoy the city of Lynn. ... What they’re saying is: they want to be able to live here too.”

An old sign along the Lynnway in Lynn, where Samuels & Associates this week won City Council approval for an 850-unit apartment complex.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

It’s crucial to work with community and neighborhood groups to retain the city’s diversity, culture, and fabric, McClain said. “The residents are what make Lynn the amazing place that it is,” she said.

Still, there’s a ways to go before anything happens. Samuels will now pursue state environmental and waterfront permits, which can take upward of a year to secure. Not to mention the fact that building new housing in Eastern Massachusetts is extremely difficult to finance right now. But Joel Sklar, the firm’s president and principal, said he’s confident about getting construction started by 2025.

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“With this public-private partnership, with the TIF, and with the ability to phase this project in over time, we are very confident that we’ll be able to get this project off the ground in 2025,” Sklar said. “We are very confident in the long-term feasibility of development of this kind of project in Eastern Massachusetts.”

Boston-based developer Samuels & Associates has proposed a $450 million project on a long-vacant 17.5-acre stretch of waterfront property, just over the General Edwards Bridge from Revere.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Catherine Carlock can be reached at catherine.carlock@globe.com. Follow her @bycathcarlock.