By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — It’s been more than four years in the making and will likely have a critical impact on several major developments along the Merrimack River.
But city councilors still don’t know what kind of rules are going to be part of a special zone along the river being developed by Mayor James Fiorentini and the city’s planning office.
“We are basing the city’s future on the waterfront,” Councilor Colin LePage said at last night’s council meeting. “I know they are working on this and I know they need to get it right. But I was hoping to get an update and some idea of where we are going with this and when it’s going to be ready.”
LePage said the new zone is likely to impact a new development proposal by the owner of 85 Water St. to build 59 luxury condominiums at the site of the former Friend’s Landing nightclub, which was demolished in 2007.
“And then there’s the five buildings on Merrimack Street that have been sold in the last few months,” LePage said, referring to the Ocasio and Newman’s Furniture building, among others, that are being redeveloped by the affordable housing arm of the Boston Archdiocese and the Greater Haverhill Foundation, which owns the Woolworth building at the corner of Merrimack and Main streets.
The riverfront zone is also likely to impact several other high-profile, vacant properties, including the city-owned Ornstein Heel property, the Haverhill Paperboard site and a parcel once known as Hoyt and Worthen Tanning.
LePage, who asked for an update on the zoning plan, received a letter from Economic Development Director William Pillsbury that offered few details.
“Please be informed that this matter has been and is continuously being worked on by the mayor, city solicitor, planning director and many others in order to achieve the council’s stated request for a comprehensive review that goes well beyond the previous filed proposal,” Pillsbury said in a letter to the council. “Many meetings have been held with interested parties and property owners along the waterfront to ensure we have a proposed ordinance amendment that meets the test of being comprehensive and which thoroughly protects our greatest asset — the Merrimack River.”
Pillsbury’s letter concludes by stating the mayor expects to file the proposal in 30 days to begin “the zoning amendment process.”
In March, the mayor said his plan is to alter zoning for property along the river by creating seven separate zones, each with different rules aimed at encouraging specific uses.