HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini’s vision of revitalizing the eastern end of downtown has taken a big step forward with zoning that encourages mixed-use residential and commercial development along the river.
The City Council approved the mayor’s proposed “zoning overlay ordinance” for the Merrimack Street end of downtown this week.
The mayor said the ordinance opens the doors to the creation of “market rate” housing that will give the public access to the water.
Fiorentini said the goal is to spread the revival that began almost a decade ago in the Washington Street end of downtown, where hundreds of upscale apartments and condos have settled, as well as new restaurants and other businesses.
“This has been a major initiative of my administration and someday what you’re going to see is a major transformation of Merrimack Street,” Fiorentini said.
The zoning is limited to the Merrimack River side of Merrimack Street, and in an area between the Basiliere Bridge and the Post Office in Washington Square.
“We’ll see a day when we come over from Bradford and see a pleasant, pleasing skyline and not one as it is today and it has been through my lifetime,” City Councilor William Ryan said just moments before the council voted to approve the ordinance 8-0. Councilor Michael McGonagle, who owns a business on Merrimack Street, abstained from voting.
Economic Development Director William Pillsbury said the zoning overlay ordinance for the Merrimack Street waterfront allows mixed-use commercial/residential development projects that will connect to the river. Pillsbury brought the request to the council last week, but it was held over to this week’s meeting to incorporate several “minor” technical changes.
“The idea that perhaps we made a mistake in urban renewal,’’ Pillsbury said of the 1960s federal program that altered the downtown but did not take advantage of the river. “This is the time to change that and to reverse that direction.’’