HAVERHILL — The city has long had a vision of a bustling downtown where the commercial district is connected to its greatest natural asset — the Merrimack River.
Now there’s a plan to make it happen.
Mayor James Fiorentini said his administration, working with private consultants and committees of residents, has completed a special zoning district for the side of Merrimack Street that is along the Merrimack River.
Fiorentini said the goal of the plan is to spread the revival that began almost a decade ago on and around Washington Street with hundreds of upscale apartments and condos and new restaurants. The city wants to bring the same kind of development to the Merrimack Street end of downtown.
The “overlay zoning district,” which must be approved by City Council before it can take effect, is designed to encourage residential and mixed-use developments in Merrimack Street properties along the river.
The mayor said he has invited councilors to suggest ideas or changes to the plan, and that will make a formal presentation at the council’s Dec. 11 meeting. The public is also invited to comment on the plan at that meeting, he said.
The underlying commercial zoning for Merrimack Street will remain the same, the mayor said, but investors who wish to build residential or mix-use projects can do so under the provisions of the new rules. Those rules include a faster permitting process, reduced parking requirements and the ability to build more housing on less land than is normally required, according to the proposal.
The plan identifies several “priority development projects” in which the city will consider giving tax breaks to developers in exchange for desirable projects, the mayor said.
Fiorentini said priority projects are developments that include both commercial and residential components — such as retail stores, offices or restaurants at ground level and housing on upper floors. Those would be built to connect to a boardwalk the city eventually hopes to build along the full run of the downtown stretch of the river, behind existing but underused buildings.