HAVERHILL — In what could turn out to be a landmark vote, City Council last night made it faster, easier, and potentially more profitable for developers to build residential and commercial projects along a sprawling swath of the Merrimack River.
City planners, Mayor James Fiorentini and councilors said they expect the new zoning regulations to be the catalyst for a major transformation of the waterfront and the city.
The ordinance creates eight separate zones for developing property along the river, each with different rules aimed at encouraging specific uses and requiring public access to the waterfront.
Under the new rules, City Council will no longer be able to reject proposals that adhere to rules for each zone.
“The idea is that development will now be a planning process and no longer a political process,” Fiorentini said, adding the council will no longer have discretion to block projects for arbitrary reasons.
The new waterfront zone stretches on the downtown side of the river from the railroad bridge at the western end to the Buttonwoods Trail opposite the Buttonwoods Museum on Water Street. On the Bradford side, the zone extends from the city-owned Ornstein Heel property near Skateland to the old Haverhill Paperboard property.
The new zoning will control development on various prominent and vacant properties, including the site of the former Friend’s Landing nightclub and parcels known as the old Cleary’s Cleaners and Skelley’s gas station, all on Water Street, as well as the Ornstein Heel, Haverhill Paperboard and Hoyt and Worthen Tanning sites in Bradford.
The new rules also govern development of some of downtown’s most high-profile buildings, such as the Woolworth, Ocasio and Newman’s Furniture buildings on Merrimack Street. Those buildings are being eyed for development by a group that includes the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the Greater Haverhill Foundation.