Reducing Lot Size Rules in Haverhill Residential Rural Zones Brings Debate Wednesday

Economic and Planning Director William Pillsbury. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The public has opportunities to shape policy this week as various Haverhill boards meet. In the interest of transparency in government, WHAV provides this list of upcoming meetings every week.

Haverhill officials say only a very small number of properties will be affected by a proposed zoning change, to be aired for public comment Wednesday night, that would reduce the minimum size of house lots from two acres to one in a particular type of zone.

Concern about the proposal has met with increasing public opposition in some quarters since being aired at a Mayor-City Council conference near the end of last month. Economic and Planning Director William Pillsbury told WHAV Monday the change was designed to reverse a year 2000-era need to slow housing growth.

“The city aims to balance preservation and protection of our watershed with housing production needs,” he said.

Pillsbury explained the plan to slow growth two decades ago made sense at the time. Now, he says, even Mayor James A. Rurak, who presided over the last amendment, agrees with the reversal. Rurak recently served as a Master Plan Committee member. Pillsbury said nothing in the proposed zoning changes would alter environmental protections.

Land use lawyer Mark Bobrowski, who consulted on the city’s master plan, said a proposed change would reduce the minimum lot area in residential rural zones from 80,000 square feet to 40,000.

Responding to a WHAV News story shared on social media, resident Lisa Marzilli, for example, wrote the proposal is “Totally against Smart Growth principles to prevent urban sprawl! We will lose the rural part of our city forever for quick money.” In another post, resident Devan Ferreira asked, “how will our overcrowded schools, understaffed police and fire departments, antiquated water and sewer systems, roads, watersheds and open space be affected?”

City officials said few actual house lots in residential rural zones will be affected since many have already been developed and the Conservation Commission will continue protecting wetlands areas.

Other residents also appear to be confused by a recommendation that would change the name of what had been called “special conservation”—or SC—zones to “residential special” zones. Pillsbury said there may be a misunderstanding that such zones have not historically been buildable. In fact, they have always been included among eight residential housing classifications and the name change simply reflects that. Pillsbury added, there are no plans to make changes to regulations covering special conservation zones.

The Haverhill Planning Board meets Wednesday, March 11, 7 p.m., in the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. City Council Chambers in Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St.

Gov. Charlie Baker has noted housing production has slowed dramatically since the Great Recession, creating a housing shortage and driving up home prices and rents. He has proposed legislation to make it easier for communities to approve new construction.

Besides the lot size issue receiving growing public attention, the Haverhill Planning Board hears various zoning updates designed to bring city ordinances into alignment with the city’s recently adopted Haverhill Vision 2035 master plan.

Planning Board members will issue recommendations on the proposed zoning changes in time for a Tuesday, April 21, City Council vote.

In other public meetings this week:

Tuesday, March 10

Haverhill Retirement Board meets Tuesday, March 10, 9 a.m., in room 303 of Haverhill City Hall, to consider cost of living adjustments.

Haverhill Board of Assessors meets for its regular weekly meeting Tuesday, March 10, 9 a.m., in room 115, Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St.

Haverhill’s Community Affairs Advisory Board continues ranking proposals submitted by various individuals and groups to spend about $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money expected next fall. The Board meets Tuesday, March 10, at 6 p.m., in room 301 of Haverhill City Hall.

Haverhill Special Education Parent Advisory Council meets Tuesday, March 10, at 6 p.m., at Moody School, 59 Margin St. On the agenda is a presentation on “Kindergarten Readiness,” presented by Kristi-Lynn Craig.

Haverhill City Council meets Tuesday, March 10, at 7 p.m., in the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. City Council Chambers, room 202, Haverhill City Hall. Among other items, City Councilor John A. Michitson plans to suggest a “partnered approach” to bring next-generation broadband internet to the city.

Wednesday, March 11

Haverhill School Committee’s Finance Subcommittee meets Wednesday, March 11, 8:30 a.m., in the superintendent’s office, room 104, Haverhill City Hall. The meeting provides updates on principal and department head talks, Student Opportunity Act forums, Charles C. White pool roof funding, among other matters.

Thursday, March 12

Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District Board of Commissioners meets Thursday, March 12, 9 a.m., at 118 Tenney St., Georgetown.

The newly reconstituted Haverhill Central Business District Parking Commission meets Thursday, March 12, 6 p.m., in room 301 of Haverhill City Hall. Members will elect a chairman, set goals and decide next steps.

City of Haverhill Harbor Commission meets Thursday, March 12, 6 p.m., in room 308 of Haverhill City Hall, to discuss a proposed riverboat cruise ship and potential use of waterways funds for kayak rental.

Friday, March 13

Washington Street Historic District Commission meets Friday March 13, 8:30 a.m., at the Switchboard, 41 Washington St. The Commission reviews proposed signage for buildings at 17 and 19 Washington St., as well as the façade at the Washington Block housing development, 25 Washington Square.

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