House Behind City Hall to Become 13 Studio Apartments; Council Debates Parking

Developer Jonathan Cody of Atlantis Investments answered questions during Tuesday’s Haverhill City Council meeting. (WHAV News photograph.)

A domestic arts class in the building at 20 Newcomb St. during the 1950s.

A building that once served home economics students at Haverhill High School is slated to become 13 studio apartments for residents with special needs.

The Haverhill City Council Tuesday night voted to authorize Mayor James J. Fiorentini to negotiate selling the former Clara Hunking Laboratory—the large white house behind City Hall—to Atlantis Investments for $600,000. Developer Jonathan Cody explained his plan.

“Small studios. They have their own kitchenette and their own bathrooms. The building will be fully gut-renovated inside, and then outside, I want to restore it back to the way it originally looked,” he said.

The 20 Newcomb St. apartments would rent between $1,000 and $1,200 and be occupied by clients of Cambridge-based Vinfen. While the majority approved the plan, Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua, Melinda E. Barrett and William J. Macek objected, citing parking concerns and future development.

Barrett said the city might need the property—possibly for a future fire station. Macek argued the land might better be used for future downtown development. “This is shooting low and not shooting high for what I would like to see behind our City Hall,” he said.

City parking consultant John Burke admitted parking had been tight when Haverhill District Court and the Registry of Motor Vehicles used City Hall. However, he said, 18 allotted parking spaces behind the building should be adequate. The City Hall lot currently consists of 141 spaces with additional on-street parking along Main and Summer Streets. He said enforcement of time limits on the street—which Bevilacqua interpreted to really mean “ticketing”—and re-striping lot spaces could ease future needs.

Cody’s proposal was considered the “most advantageous” of three considered by city Purchasing Director Steven S. Bucuzzo based on purchase price. Cody is willing to pay $441,000 more than the next-highest bidder, Francis J. Bevilacqua III. Bevilacqua’s market rate plan, however, would pay twice as much in annual property taxes. Councilor Colin F. LePage said tax collections would take the city 40 years to make up for the difference in purchase price.

Cody said he has developed more than 200 properties and first came to Haverhill in 2011 when he renovated a brick building at White and Vine Streets. His most recent project was buying and renovating the former Haverhill Bank branch in Lafayette Square for offices.

The Clara Hunking Laboratory served students when the high school was located at what is now City Hall. The building served for 42 years as Phoenix East, a drug rehabilitation home operated by the former Team Coordinating Agency.