EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 26, 2014

High Street housing proposal rejected

Split-decision likely to trigger lawsuit

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — In a split vote, City Council rejected a proposal last night to convert a dilapidated building in the Mount Washington neighborhood into an apartment complex.

Attorney William Faraci told councilors his clients planned to spend $450,000 to renovate a vacant building at 12-13 High St. and build seven apartments. Faraci said his clients paid “just $55,000 for the property because no one else wanted it.”

The building was formerly a dual-use building, with a retail store on the first floor and two apartments above, but has been vacant for many years.

Councilors against the project said the were concerned the developers were trying to force too many units into the building, and about the plan to use a lot across the street for parking. The opponents also did not like the fact there is no yard or outside play area on the property for children.

“This building has never seen more than two residential units and one commercial space,” said Councilor William Macek, who led the opposition. “Seven apartments is excessive. We are trying to rebuild the Mount Washington neighborhood and this won’t help.”

Faraci said those are not legal reason to reject the proposal and set the stage for a potential law suit. The developers, he said, had received a variance for the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals to allow parking across the street.

“Saying you don’t think it’s in the city’s best interest is not a legal reason for denial,” Faraci told councilors, stressing there has been no neighborhood opposition to the proposal. “I want this on the record for reasons that lawyers understand.”

Faraci said there are many other apartment buildings nearby that don’t have on-site parking or yards.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said she did not find that line of thinking persuasive, however.

“I don’t buy your argument that because bad decisions were made in the past, that we should continue that,” Daly O’Brien said. “Seven units is way too dense, there’s not enough parking and there’s no green space.”

A request for a special permit that would have allowed the project to go forward failed by a vote of 4 to 4, with Councilor William Ryan abstaining because he owns property next door. Six votes were required for approval.

Councilor Thomas Sullivan voted in favor and said he disagrees sharply with his colleagues.

“I see this as a neighborhood improvement to a blighted eyesore,” Sullivan said of the proposed apartment complex. “It’s a depressed area that needs some life and improvements.”

Councilor Robert Scatamacchia said he also saw the plan as the best chance to see the property revived.

“If this doesn’t pass, it’s going to be vacant for another 20 years,” Scatamacchia said prior to the vote.

The High Street building is in an inner-city neighborhood the city has targeted for improvements. Mount Washington is one of Haverhill’s oldest sections and has several run down buildings, as well as a problem with street crime. Extra police patrols have been assigned to the neighborhood.