HAVERHILL — A proposal to turn a deteriorated and vacant building in the city’s Mount Washington neighborhood into an apartment complex will go before City Council tomorrow night.
Paul Arsenault, the developer and co-owner of the property, is seeking permission from the council to convert the building at 12-13 High St. to seven rental apartments. It was formerly a dual-use building, with a retail store on the first floor and apartments above, but has been vacant for many years.
The project has won approval from city planners, but ran into problems at a prior council meeting.
Councilor William Macek said he would not support the proposal until he receives more specific information about the plan. He said he does not believe there is enough parking on the site or space in the building for seven apartments. Macek also said paperwork on the project was incomplete.
“It will be a problem property if we let this go forward in its current form,” Macek said at a recent council meeting, adding that he believes the High Street property is suitable for no more than four apartments.
“I don’t want to take it down,” Macek told Arsenault at the meeting, while offering to discuss his concerns with the developer after the meeting. “I just want to make sure it’s a project that’s good for the city.”
Arsenault said his plan includes 14 parking spaces and that he needs only 11 spaces under current zoning rules.
Economic Development Director William Pillsbury said the project has the potential to have a positive impact on a impoverished section of the city that is near downtown.
“We see this proposal as an investment in one of our target neighborhoods that’s going to upgrade a very visible property,” Pillsbury said. “When a private investor wants to fix up a vacant building and bring it back to life, we try to assist them.”
Councilor William Ryan said the council should try to be flexible and help Arsenault with the project, which Ryan said would present major challenges for any developer.
“I’ve seen Paul working on the building many times and cleaning up the site,” Ryan said. “No one in Haverhill would touch this property, but he’s from out of town. He will have the most parking of anyone in the area. I say let’s give him a chance. He needs flexibility to make this inner-city building work. We should not hold him to the high parking standards.”
Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said concerns pointed out by Macek and other councilors are designed to make the project better, not give Arsenault difficulty.
“We are trying to help him make his plan better so it has a chance of success,” Daly O’Brien said. “I’m all for improving that area and I can tell that’s what he is going to do.”
According to city tax records, the property is assessed at $283,000 and is owned by 13 High Street Realty Trust, Kerri Fonduto trustee. City Assessor Stephen Gullo said the property would be reassessed after it is renovated.
Arsenault’s proposal says he is open to reserving some of the apartments for low-income renters, but that he hopes to retain the option of converting the units to for-sale condominiums in the future.
According to the proposal, the renovated building will retain its “family-style look” on the front and consist of three, 3-bedroom units and four, 2-bedroom units. It is to include laundry and storage areas for tenants.
“Please consider our proposal and allow us to make this building an example on how to improve the neighborhood,” Arsenault wrote on his application to the council for a special permit. “We would like to continue making Haverhill a great place to live.”
Council approval is required for all multi-unit housing projects.