Council Opposes Fiorentini-Backed Ornsteen Heel Housing Project

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini speaking at a previous City Council meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Mayor James J. Fiorentini urged city councilors Tuesday to convert the former Ornsteen Heel property into housing with support from NOAH. (WHAV News photograph)
The City Council Tuesday rejected a proposal to convert riverfront property into a housing complex on an abandoned parcel of city-owned land that was once home to the Ornsteen Heel Company.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini came before the council to ask that Haverhill partner with the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing organization, known as NOAH, to build a housing complex on 31-35 Railroad Ave., next to Skateland in Bradford. The mayor asked for a 90-day period, during which the city would attempt to develop a purchase and sale agreement with the organization for the project. The proposed project would feature 80 to 113 units, some of which would be classified as affordable middle-class units. Fiorentini says the project would extend the nearby Rail Trail and that the project would net $80,000 to $100,000 in taxes for the City of Haverhill.

“I believe that this is the best opportunity to develop this that we’ve received over a 14-year period. I think we have a good proposal from them and I’m asking for 90 days to help me develop it into a great proposal,” Fiorentini said.

Phil Giffee, NOAH’s executive director, said that the project could be developed with between 90 to 100 percent market rate and workforce housing, but up to seven percent of the complex could feature the affordable middle-class units. Those units would be optional. Giffee also said that the project could potentially improve property value in surrounding areas and encourage the creation of new businesses. The project has an estimated cost of $32 million and Giffee asked the council for a $200,000 contribution from the city.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said that on top of the length of time it would take to complete the project, she was concerned about the amount of traffic the proposed project would add to the nearby Comeau Bridge.

“The structure of it keeps that lane the size it is and it’s got visibility issues. So, that’s one concern I have because this definitely will bring in a significant amount of traffic, on top of what we already have,” O’Brien said.

Councilor Melinda Barrett said that she could not support the plan due to its lengthy timeline. According to Fiorentini, it would be four and a half years until ground was broken on the project. Colin F. LePage argued that he’d like to see other proposals for the project, reminding colleagues of a recent challenge issued by downtown developer Salvatore N. Lupoli, imploring others to build in the city and rival his Haverhill Heights complex.

Upon voting, the motion to support the plan failed six to two, with Councilors Thomas J. Sullivan, Barrett, Colin F. LePage, Timothy J. Jordan, Michael S. McGonagle and John A. Michitson voting no, Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua and O’Brien voting yes and Councilor William J. Macek being absent.