EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 1, 2013

Regional plan balances need for development, preservation in Merrimack Valley

By Brian Messenger

---- — Some areas are ideal for development, with easy traffic access and infrastructure at the ready. Others deserve special protection to preserve open space, sensitive habitats and other environmental assets.

A new regional plan announced by Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration takes both development and preservation into account by identifying 25 “priority” areas in the Merrimack Valley.

From the Malden Mills site in Lawrence to Crystal Lake in Haverhill, the priority designations are expected to assist local and regional planners as they compete for state grants and funding for technical assistance.

“We have identified where we want to add growth and where we want to preserve,” said Dennis DiZoglio, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC). “We’re taking it to the next level. This is really an effort to target our governmental resources.”

DiZoglio said the priority areas in the state’s Merrimack Valley Regional Plan will receive preference for state and federal assistance, putting the region at an advantage over other areas in Massachusetts without similar plans.

A total of 13 areas have been identified for priority development, including these local projects:

In Andover: downtown, Brickstone Square, Interstate 93/Osgood Street, and River Road/Lawrence Industrial Park

In Haverhill: downtown Water Street, and the Upper Hilldale Industrial Park

In Lawrence: Malden Mills and the Merrimack Street Gateway

In North Andover: Osgood Landing and Machine Shop Village

Among the 12 state-designated priority preservation areas:

1,642 acres by Crystal Lake in Haverhill

1,536 acres by the East Meadow River in Haverhill and Merrimac

9,380 acres by the Parker River headwaters in Haverhill, North Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland and Newbury

1,491 acres near Haggetts Pond in Andover and Tewksbury

564 acres spread across eight parcels in North Andover

The preservation areas include farmland, sensitive habitats and environmental resources, potential links between existing open-space resources, and places of cultural or historical significance, according to the state.

The areas will not be permanently protected, but are considered “worthy of increased levels of protection through planning, regulation or acquisition,” according to a press release issued by the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development, which developed the regional plan in concert with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the MVPC and local and regional stakeholders.

The plan was developed based on the MVPC’s Priority Growth Strategy Report, which was drawn up in 2009. DiZoglio said that report identified 56 “concentrated development centers,” which the state then refined.

The 13 priority development areas all have local support, good access, strong water, sewer and transportation infrastructure, and an absence of environment constraints, according to the state.

Many of the projects will be targeted for expedited local permitting. Others could become part of the state’s Smart Growth Zoning program, which promotes high-density housing and mixed-use development near transit stations.

In instances of downtown development, DiZoglio said planners often target areas near public transportation, along with first-floor commercial development and residential development on higher floors.

“It’s allowing for retail (and) it’s allowing for housing,” said DiZoglio. “It’s that mix of uses.”