HAVERHILL — The City Council tabled approving a three-building luxury condo development after an outcry from neighbors who said it was too big and too tall for the narrow streets in their area.
The Riverview Condominiums project, proposed for 38 Railroad St. just east of the Crescent Yacht Club, would consist of three, four-story buildings each containing 20, one and two-bedroom "market rate" condominiums and no Section 8 housing. Public and private docks are part of the proposal.
A public hearing on the project during Tuesday night's council meeting, councilors said they want the developer — and his representatives who spoke — and neighbors to resolve their concerns before they take up the approval issue again. Several neighbors said buildings will be 55-feet high and likely block river views.
Local businessman Ernest Cioto of Boxford, the property owner, purchased the site in 2000. He said it has been his "dream" to develop the site for nearly two decades.
He told the council that he loves the revitalization of Haverhill that is taking place and that "I want to be part of it."
The buildings will have parking spaces beneath so that the first floor condos overlook the planned rail trail extension, which Economic and Planning Director William Pillsbury said will be part of the project.
Pillsbury said the developer has proposed providing easements for public access to and from Railroad Street at both ends of the property and construct the extension of the rail trail along the entire frontage of the project.
In a letter to the council, Pillsbury said Cioto's project represents a major step forward in implementing waterfront zoning and is "exactly the type of project the city envisioned when the innovative waterfront zoning ordinance was adopted by the City Council," several years ago.
This is the latest housing project along the river to seek approval at a time the city is trying to convince developers to transform former old mill and factory properties along the river.
Project designer, Christopher Crump of CWC Design of Newburyport, said the project will replace a dilapidated building that is an "eyesore" to the community.
"We're looking to make these high-end condominiums with tall windows and lots of light," Crump said.
Project architect John Sava of Newburyport said the developer still needs to undertake a site plan review process before he can seek construction permits.
William Gould Jr., who lives at 1 S. Charles St., warned about plans to install boat docks, saying that section of the river is mud at low tide.
"Without sufficient dredging, you'd have a difficult time," Gould said, adding that "the scale of this (project) is a bit excessive."
Dana Fields, of 23 S. River St., said the project will "tower over everything" and that it is designed in a flood zone.
"If there is a flood, all the cars (parked beneath the three buildings) will have to be moved," he said.
Fields said the streets in that area are too narrow to support a project of this scope and size and asked the council to vote it down.
Crescent Yacht Club member Lisa Corr told the council that 60 units of housing is too much for the neighborhood to absorb.
"Have you seen how narrow the streets are?" she asked. "A lot of residents have to park on the street as they don't have driveways. Think about the impact."
William Gould Sr. of 1 S. Charles St. said that based on the project plans, residents of the development will exit the property with their vehicle headlights pointing directly at his home.
"Headlights will be flashing my house," he said.
George Frascone of 25 S. River St. said he has a son with severe disabilities and worried how he would react to the sound of construction taking place once the project begins.
"How about a privacy fence," he asked.
Cioto's lawyer, Paul Magliocchetti said the developer will work with neighbors to install any necessary screening or buffering between homes and the project.
Pillsbury said that roadway improvements will be part of the project, and that the city owns the railroad track bed in that area and plans to create a new roadway to alleviate traffic concerns.
Fields surprised councilors by saying the project does not have enough land for the number of units proposed.
Council President John Michitson said the information provided by Fields caused him to be "very concerned" about the project.
"The infrastructure for traffic is inadequate and to me, the area just isn't cut out for this size of a project," Michitson said,
"I don't like this project," Councilor Thomas Sullivan said. "I can't imagine what it would be like to live across from this structure. We're not Newburyport."
Sullivan said the city needs to "improve the roadways before we allow a project of this magnitude."
Councilor Michael McGonagle, and Councilor Tim Jordan, who was offsite but interacted remotely, both said they want the developer and the neighbors to work together as the city needs more high end housing on the river.