City Ponders Design Review in Wake of Domino’s Vote

The city council’s June decision not to block Domino’s Pizza from demolishing a Main Street church led to discussion of design review.

New city standards for signage at development projects may come out of a recent request by three city councilors to create a review board for a say on how new development projects “fit within” neighborhoods or to protect historical properties.

The Haverhill City Council’s Planning and Development subcommittee last Thursday unanimously requested written recommendations from Economic Development and Planning Director William Pillsbury toward “signage and design oversight along with guidance for the future with developers.” Councilor William J. Macek, committee chairman, is scheduled to update the council Tuesday night on its discussion of a proposed review board, motioned last July12 by Councilor Andy Vargas and referred to the committee. Thursday, Macek began committee discussion with “an overview of current lack of design control,” according to meeting minutes. However, Pillsbury advised the committee Mayor James J. Fiorentini “was not in favor of design controls.”

“Mr. Pillsbury gave his opinion of what we already had for built-in controls in various commercial districts and why residential controls are problematic in general,” Macek wrote. Pillsbury also discussed “the need for some signage standards” and noted the city was “able recently to get new developers to build with compatible facades.”

The concept of a design review board came after last June’s 6 to 2 vote, where councilors defeated an ordinance which would have granted the Haverhill Historic Commission authority to both delay demolition of properties in the Main Street Historic District and regulate designs of new buildings. Most councilors argued St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church parishioners need money from the sale of the church at the corner of Main and Winter Streets to complete a new building that has been in the works for 15 years. Councilors also said they will trust a Domino’s Pizza franchise to voluntarily work with officials to construct an attractive strip shopping area in place of the church.

Only Councilors Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and Thomas J. Sullivan voted in favor of giving the historic commission new powers to regulate Main Street buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Councilor Melinda E. Barrett abstained from voting.

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who serves on the committee with Macek and Vargas, supported “some review” for signs within the city and “to seek out quality development and to not impose strict design standards as it may drive some developers away,” the minutes read.

Vargas, while agreeing on a “need to be sensitive to developers,” also discussed how to “go forward with protecting certain areas,” including historic districts. Pillsbury’s recommendations, when received, would then be brought before the full council, Macek wrote.

In July, as WHAV reported, Vargas, Macek and Vice President Melinda E. Barrett made the initial council agenda request.

The Haverhill City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m., in Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers at Haverhill City Hall.

4 thoughts on “City Ponders Design Review in Wake of Domino’s Vote

  1. We put lipstick on pigs everyday in the fine city.
    Oops sorry, another rule here in Haverhill you are not allowed to have pigs….
    Let’s give dominos a try before the mr mayor gets his hands on it and builds “condos”. By the way the campground in the park is getting filed to capacity.

  2. I can’t imagine how any kind of design review can salvage what will be lost when the historic church, described in a Haverhill Public Library calendar as “one of the earliest examples of the Romanesque style in America,” is demolished in the very near future. The fast food joint is going in there no matter what, so there is no need to require the developers to put lipstick on the pig.

  3. Haverhill Mass – continuing to make it harder and more difficult for business to open, revamp and provide jobs – while having no issues creating more section 8 housing for those who will never contribute to the bottom line of the city.

    Liberalism is a mental disorder.

    • Well said and so true. It has become so easy to forgo the concern about subsidized housing where the taxes overcome the community impact of such projects. Impact to the schools, fire, police and other dept.’s are commonplace when these developments run free.

      Let’s instead allow those who are appointed for their political connections, have no accountability to anyone really, control what people can do with their own land. I understand the historic aspect and reasoning behind some control. But, you cannot have a situation where these unaccountable boards, who are not elected, get in the way of growth within a city.