McGonagle Seeks to Save Over-55 Home Project, Possibly at Paperboard Site

With the Merrimack River at his back, developer Larry Smith contemplated the possibilities of building an over-55 community off East Brodway. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill City Councilor Michael S. McGonagle. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

Haverhill City Councilor Michael S. McGonagle wants to see the developer of over-55 homes build in Haverhill—even if not on East Broadway, where his effort to add an overlay zoning district failed this week.

McGonagle has already taken steps toward that goal, trying to arrange a meeting between Larry Smith and the owner of the former Haverhill Paperboard property along the Merrimack River in Bradford.

“I don’t want to lose this guy and the type of work he has done in other communities. I think he is a tremendous asset,” McGonagle told WHAV. He explained such a high-end, single-family home development would bring the city $300,000 to $400,000 a year in taxes, but without the costs of most city services.

Councilors voted to deny creating an East Broadway senior housing overlay zone Tuesday night even as other members offered amendments to try to save the 30-home project. Had the zoning change been allowed at the former sand pit, Smith would have had a chance to formally pitch the $675,000- to $700,000-per-home project. McGonagle wanted the chance to hear the merits of the building plan.

“I couldn’t sleep. I was so angry. I do understand why the folks down on East Broadway feel the way they do. We have responsibilities to all of the citizens of Haverhill. I really felt we should have taken this to the next step. If it didn’t go then, let it go,” he said.

McGonagle said he was heartened to see Smith’s willingness to compromise—agreeing to drop the number of homes to 27 and further work with neighbors. Immediately after the hearing, he said he asked Smith to “not give up on Haverhill yet.” The councilor followed up Wednesday morning with city Planning and Economic Development Director William Pillsbury to pitch the former boxboard site. Another possible site is the former Ornsteen Heel property, also overlooking the Merrimack River in Bradford.

Smith told WHAV Thursday he could not offer any comment until he talks with his investment team and reviews specifics about the abandoned Haverhill Paperboard site. McGonagle, however, said he believes a meeting between the property owner and developer is imminent.