Vote on St. James Grammar School Rehab Delayed in Face of Neighbor Concerns

Former St. James Grammar School (St. Gregory School) at 108 Harrison St., Haverhill.

City councilors postponed a decision on an $8.7 million housing project on Harrison Street after several residents of the neighborhood spoke out against the 25-unit apartment development.

Councilors’ sentiments were divided between the opportunity to provide workforce-rate housing by rehabilitating the former St. James Grammar School, which has been vacant for decades, and the concerns of residents like Michael Schroth of York Street, who say their neighborhood is already too densely populated.

“This is going to ruin our neighborhood,” Schroth said. “It’s a bad deal for our city.”

The delay is designed to give residents and developers the chance to work out a compromise. The council will host a special meeting on Nov. 21 beginning at 6 p.m.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan, who voted against postponing the vote, appeared to support the project.

“We need more workforce housing in this city,” Sullivan said. “A lot more of it.”

Added to the mix is the developers’ fear that historic and workforce housing tax credits that would make the project possible will disappear if the federal tax reform bill is approved.

Local attorney Michael Migliori said the developers have to close the deal on the property by the end of the year if they are to persuade banks to finance the project.

He reacted to the neighbors’ opposition by reminding them that the project is only blocks from downtown.

“We’re building urban housing here, not rural housing,” Migliori said.

Common Ground Development of Lowell, an arm of that city’s Community Action organization, would construct 13 apartments in the renovated school, and build another building with 12 apartments -- six two-bedroom and six studios.

Rents will be set at 60 percent of the area median, ranging from $921 for a studio apartment to $1,367 for a three-bedroom.

In addition to traffic and parking concerns, residents and councilors are worried about snow removal. Developers agreed to stipulate that they would remove snow from the premises to ensure that tenants could park in the lot.