EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 26, 2013

Mayor to pitch sale of Ornstein property

Sale could spark building boom on the Bradford side of the river

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini will ask City Council tonight to support a new attempt to sell the sprawling Ornstein Heel property on the banks of the Merrimack River in Haverhill’s Bradford section.

The sale and redevelopment of the former factory building parcel could be a one-two punch for the city: filling its coffers with much-needed cash and potentially sparking a building boom on the side of the river opposite downtown.

The city seized the wooded Ornstein site for nonpayment of taxes after several industrial buildings there were demolished in 1994. A proposal by a company called Merrimack Towers to buy the property for $3.4 million and build 136 garden-style condominiums in three buildings overlooking the water collapsed with the local real estate market several years ago.

At his State of the City speech last month, Fiorentini said he was preparing a new campaign to market and sell the property, under new rules that encourage market-rate housing and require developers to allow public access to the waterway.

City planners and a committee formed by the mayor are reviewing zoning rules on the Bradford side of the river with an eye toward sparking the kind of building boom that began about a decade ago on the downtown side of the waterway.

The downtown building boom was triggered by zoning changes that paved the way for a number of large housing developments in old factory buildings.

Other properties near the Ornstein parcel that are ripe for development, the mayor has said, include a site once known as Hoyt and Worthen Tanning and the 23-acre Haverhill Paperboard parcel that has been the subject of recent discussions by its private owner about a major development there.

“Those areas are still zoned for industrial use, but industry moved out a long time ago to the industrial parks,” the mayor said recently of the Bradford properties. “It’s time for them to catch up with the times.”

At tonight’s meeting, Fiorentini will ask the council to declare the Ornstein property surplus land, which will allow him to seek proposals there and put the land up for sale. The mayor’s measure to the council includes a provision that gives the council final say over future sale of the property.