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Haverhill

February 15, 2014

City debates businesses only for 1st floors

Redevelopment of downtown building spurs discussion

HAVERHILL — Apartments and condos seem to be everywhere downtown.

Hundreds of them have been built in old shoe factories. They are also on upper floors of buildings that have restaurants, lounges and other businesses on the street level.

City leaders call the new homes which saturate the downtown the key to its comeback. They have brought a new population of younger, professional people who are spending money in the heart of the city, boosting its economy.

But there is one place downtown you will seldom, if ever find an apartment — the ground floor of a building.

Until now.

The move came with much debate however, and barely got approval from the City Council.

This week, the council reviewed a plan for 19 apartments and 4,000 square feet of retail space in a vacant building that formerly housed the Surplus Office Supply company.

Before the meeting, it seemed the project would get quick approval because it would bring new life to an empty building in the otherwise busy Washington Street restaurant district.

But when councilors learned the proposal called for a living unit on the street-level floor, some members objected. Four of the council’s nine members initially opposed the plan when they voted in favor of a motion by Councilor William Macek not to allow residential space on the ground floor.

Macek said he wanted to avoid setting a new precedent and that historically the downtown has had only commercial space on the ground floors of buildings.

“I didn’t want an apartment on the first floor as it’s a prime location for retail and we should not start a new precedent,” Macek said on Friday. “For decades we haven’t had retail space on the ground floor.

“Our zoning says we allow apartments only on upper floors,” Macek said. “I can think of a lot of places such as convenience stores and laundromats throughout the city that were converted to residential use. But I don’t want to start a precedent here.”

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