HAVERHILL — Many of Haverhill's old factory buildings have been converted to housing and other uses during the inner-city comeback of recent years, but one key property along the river still sits vacant. Some city councilors are saying something must happen with the old Ornsteen Heel property on the Bradford side of the river.
It's a raw piece of land without any structures on it, but it is a valuable piece of riverfront property the city has been trying to redevelop for years.
City Councilor Colin LePage discussed the Ornsteen property at the July 9 council meeting, questioning what the city is doing to find a potential developer.
"The last time we discussed this was October 2018," LePage said about the Ornsteen property, which he said the city has owned for about 20 years and has yet to find a suitable buyer for.
He said the city issued requests for proposals in 2014 and again in 2017, then last October the mayor brought forward a proposal the council subsequently rejected in a 2-6 vote.
Mayor James Fiorentini had asked the council to appoint the nonprofit Neighborhood of Affordable Housing Inc. (NOAH) of East Boston as a "preferred developer" of the city-owned property, located at 31-35 Railroad Ave., and to allow him 90 days to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement.
The proposed project would have brought between 80 and 113 units of market rate and affordable, below market rate housing to the property next to Skateland, as well as a 2-acre public park with a boat ramp and an extension of the rail trail; but the councilors were concerned that NOAH did not have the necessary financing secured and felt that the project's timeline, which projected construction would not begin for four and a half years, was too lengthy.
LePage said that since last October's rejection of the mayor's proposal, the city issued another RFP that was due this past May and resulted in no developer being brought forward for consideration, however, a bid was received from Princeton Properties, he said.
"The council agreed to send a letter to the mayor asking what is the status of the most recent proposal received from Princeton Properties," he said. "We asked the mayor to respond by our next regularly scheduled meeting on July 23."
Councilor William Macek said that Princeton Properties owns more than 5,000 housing units in the Merrimack Valley, including the former Forest Acres Drive apartment complex, which has been renamed, Princeton Bradford Apartments.
"I am hopeful that negotiations are underway to bring in a proven, local quality developer," Macek said, noting that "it is the sole responsibility of the mayor to facilitate these negotiations."