EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Haverhill

March 5, 2013

Plan aims to spur a building boom

Mayor asks council to OK ways of luring downtown development

HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini is hoping to spur a new building boom downtown, similar to the one that led to the reuse of old factories and more than 500 new apartments and condos in the area.

Fiorentini laid out his ambitious plan for rezoning large swaths of land along the Merrimack River at his State of the City speech last week. The crux of it is to spur redevelopment of other under-used buildings by helping developers qualify for state tax breaks and other financial incentives.

The mayor can’t do it without the City Council’s help, however. Tonight, he will ask councilors to approve a special housing development zone for much land on both sides of the river — property along the downtown and Bradford sides of the waterway.

The council is expected to schedule a public hearing on the plan April 9 at City Hall, and also vote on the proposal that night.

Formation of the zone would allow developers who build market-rate housing to qualify for tax breaks under a new state program.

“The city is currently in discussions with several developers interested in constructing mixed-use projects within the boundaries of the zone,” a document outlining the mayor’s proposal said. “It is expected that as these discussions continue, the proposed projects will meet the specifications of the Housing Development Plan and these developers will be applying for Tax Increment Exemptions.”

Fiorentini said a similar zoning plan about a decade ago led to several large factory-to-housing proposals that produced 268 market-rate homes and about 250 affordable and subsidized units in the western end of downtown. Those housing developments are 96 percent occupied, according to the proposal.

The mayor said his new plan is designed to target vacant upper floors in many large downtown buildings, especially on Merrimack Street — the eastern end of downtown.

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