EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 11, 2012

Review of new downtown plan delayed a week

Lawyers still tweaking proposal

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini’s plan for revitalizing the Merrimack Street end of downtown wasn’t quite ready for prime time last night.

At the request of Economic Development Director William Pillsbury, the City Council agreed to postpone a scheduled public hearing on the proposal for one week. A letter from Pillsbury said city zoning lawyers are making changes to the plan recommended by the Planning Board, and that the new proposal will be ready for public review and consideration at the council’s Dec. 18 meeting.

The mayor’s “overlay zoning district” proposal is designed to encourage residential and commercial developments on Merrimack Street properties along the river. The goal of the plan, he said, 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.

According to the proposal, the existing commercial zoning for Merrimack Street would remain the same, but investors who wish to build projects that include both residential housing and commercial development could do so under 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.

The plan also 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.

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.