By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Residents will get several acres along Little River where they can hike on trails and enjoy the rural environment.
Developer Stephen Defeo of Boxford said the Essex County Greenbelt Association has accepted his donation of 3.5 acres along Little River.
He said the group has agreed to maintain the property and the trails for public use.
Haverhill has several parks, trails and other recreational areas along the Merrimack River, and the city has talked about making Little River a focus of such projects.
Defeo is donating the conservation land in exchange for the city’s approval of his plan to build six homes under Haverhill’s “cluster development” rules. The rules allow the units to be closer together than normal zoning would allow. As part of the plan, Defeo agreed to set aside the 3.5 acres as permanently protected recreational land that cannot be built upon. The protected land includes public trails that lead to Little River.
Defeo told the City Council on Tuesday about the Essex County Greenbelt Association’s agreement to maintain the conservation land. Also on Tuesday, the council agreed to take over maintenance of the roughly 400-foot-long cul-de-sac called Perls Way, off Rosement Street.
The street acceptance is the final local approval needed by Defeo for the six single-family homes he will build on 15.5 acres near Little River.
Defeo said Perls Way is named after his 9-year-old daughter.
Defeo also said Mayor James Fiorentini declined his offer to give the conservation land to the city — a decision questioned by Councilor William Ryan.
“I understand the mayor did not want the city to be responsible for maintaining the land and the trails, but we don’t have any assurances they (the Greenbelt Association) will take care of it either,” Ryan said. “I just wish the mayor would have taken the land for the city in case we need it some day.”
Defeo described the homes in the development as modest and affordable. He said they include three bedrooms and garages.
“They’re 1,800 square feet,” he said of the homes, “not too big with a variety of different faces, including capes and little colonials.”
Defeo said he worked closely with city Planning Director William Pillsbury and Conservation Agent Rob Moore in crafting the plan.
As part of the project, the city also received $3,600 for safety improvements to a winding section of Rosemont Street near the development.
The money is being used for road signs and street lights and to trim and cut trees and brush along Rosemont Street, city officials said. The developer also provided money to improve a sewer pumping station on nearby Alvanios Drive.