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February 13, 2013

Land sales held up by paperwork error

HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini will have to wait at least two more weeks before he can start making plans to sell 19 city properties.

The council postponed voting last night on the mayor’s request to surplus the parcels — with a combined value at roughly $400,000 — until its Feb. 26 meeting.

A council committee reviewing the proposal has recommended against selling five of the 19 properties, but the paperwork in front of the council last night did not reflect that recommendation, Councilor William Macek said. Macek said he assumed the mistake was innocent.

Public land must be declared surplus — unusable or unwanted — by the council before the mayor can try to sell it at auction or by soliciting bids.

The council’s Public Property and Natural Resources Committee wants the city to hold on to some of the properties because some councilors believe they will be more valuable in the future, including land on the banks of the Merrimack River near downtown.

The committee also opposes selling a few parcels because they are very small or unbuildable, including one at the bottom of a steep embankment with a creek running through it and others without access roads. Some are worried selling useless property to an unsuspecting buyer would create ill will or mistrust. Others said it’s the buyer’s responsibility to research property they are interested in and that most are likely to be bought by direct neighbors who only want to increase the size of their property.

The parcels, none of which are buildable without approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals, have a combined assessed value of about $400,000. They range in value from $500 to $105,700 for the one near downtown on River Street. Fiorentini has said he would use most of the sale proceeds to boost the city’s cash reserves.

In the past, the city has used money from the sale of city property to repair and renovate schools and other city buildings, plug budget shortfalls and grow the city’s cash reserves.

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