EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 24, 2012

Mayor seeks grant funds for YMCA project

Council puts off action on fee waiver as 'Brownfields' grant researched

By Shawn Regan sregan@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini is standing firm against waiving an estimated $60,000 to $70,000 in building fees for the YMCA’s Wadleigh House renovation.

Instead of waiving the fees, he’s trying to find the organization some grant money to offset the city charges.

City Council was scheduled to consider a request last night from the YMCA to waive the fees, but postponed the matter for a week at the mayor’s request.

David Van Dam, the mayor’s aide, said Fiorentini has requested federal “Brownfields” money from the Merimack Valley Planning Council for the YMCA. The money is made available to communities to clean polluted land. Van Dam did not know how much grant money might be available or what kind of contaminants might be present on the Wadleigh House property.

The project, across the street from City Hall, is a 22-unit housing development for low-income men and women.

Van Dam said the city expected to hear back from the regional planning commission as soon as today. Fiorentini was not at last night’s meeting and he did not return a phone message.

Councilor Willian Ryan said the city is also researching how building fees are assessed to nonprofits in other communities. He said the council expects that information before voting next week.

The YMCA demolished the former 18-unit home at 170 Main St. this past summer and plans to erect the new building in its place. The new structure, which is expected to be ready for tenants next summer, is designed to be in character with the Main Street Historic District.

Last week, YMCA Director Tracy Fuller told councilors the $4.1 million project has proved more costly than anticipated due to asbestos-related issues and other problems.

“Costs have gone over and we need the break to finish it,” she said in asking the council to waive the city fees, suggesting they amount to $26,000.

At that meeting, Councilor Colin LePage suggested the fees could be as much as $100,000. Hearing that, his colleagues continued the matter to last night to obtain better information about the fees. The next day, Fiorentini said the fees are actually $60,000, not including another $10,000 or so in water and sewer fees that he said the YMCA also wants the city to forgo.

Fiorentini said he opposes waiving the fees for financial reasons and because he does not want to set a precedent for waiving development fees for nonprofits.

The 170 Main St. property was originally home to the Griffin-White Home for Men. YMCA of the North Shore bought the building more than a decade ago, changed the name to the Wadleigh House and continued to operate it as a home for low-income men until time caught up with the structure. Instead of trying to rehabilitate it, the YMCA decided to demolish it and start over.

Fuller told councilors the YMCA does not expect to make a profit on the project. Any money it does make will be invested back into the property for upkeep and maintenance, she said.

The Wadleigh House units will be in addition to 52 single-room units the YMCA offers at its main location at 81 Winter St.

The council has also referred the issue of discounting building fees for non-profits to a study committee to develop a policy.