By Shawn Regan
HAVERHILL — Residents and city councilors alike will get their chance Dec. 11 to debate Mayor James Fiorentini’s plan to revitalize the Merrimack Street end of downtown.
The mayor’s “overlay zoning district” proposal is designed to encourage residential and commercial developments on Merrimack Street properties along the river. Fiorentini said he is looking for input and open to
making changes to the plan based on feedback at the public hearing at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
The mayor said the goal of the plan is to spread the revival that began almost a decade ago on and around the Washington Street end of downtown, where hundreds of upscale apartments and condos have settled, as well as new restaurants.
Under the proposal, the existing commercial zoning for Merrimack Street would remain the same, but investors who wish to build mixed-use projects could do so under new rules. Those rules include a faster permitting process, reduced residential parking requirements and the ability to build more housing on less land than is normally required.
The plan identifies several “priority development projects” in which the city would consider giving tax breaks to developers in exchange for desirable projects that also provide public access to the river.
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 construct along the full run of the downtown stretch of the river, behind existing but under-used buildings.
“Our goal is to offer whatever incentives we can to encourage development of Merrimack Street if that development allows public access to the water,” Fiorentini said.
City Councilor Colin LePage said he and Councilor William Macek attended a Planning Board meeting on the proposal earlier this month and are optimistic about what they heard. LePage said he is pleased the mayor’s plan provides incentives for high-end developments and market-rate housing.