Haverhill City Council to Consider Zoning Changes Tonight; Housing in Rural Areas a Sticking Point

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News file photograph.)

A long-postponed update to Haverhill’s zoning is before the Haverhill City Council tonight with a possible change in rural housing being among the most controversial items.

A number of residents made their objections to reducing residential rural lot sizes from 80,000 to 40,000 square feet—or from about two acres to one—when the Planning Board heard the proposal last spring. City councilors on Friday received a plan to scrap those lot size reductions, but allow for “cluster developments” by special permit in the rural residential zones.

At least one resident, however, remains concerned about unrestrained housing development in rural areas.

“Let’s just hit pause and let’s be more thoughtful about that,” said Christine Kwitchoff, who describes herself as a community activist and volunteer. She explained there has been no public discussion of the impact the zoning change could have on properties above four acres in size and no zoning discussion at all since COVID-19 struck in March. “It has been seven months and we haven’t talked about it,” she added.

Economic and Planning Director William Pillsbury Jr. has said the original plan was aimed at increasing the availability of single-family homes and, while not specifically cited, is consistent with the new “Haverhill Vision 2035” master plan. Back in March, Sam Bergeron of Haverhill said such housing plans would do little to make more homes available.

“Even if you clear-cut every single acre of forest in Haverhill and built one acre lots on there, you would not even put a dent into the housing shortage in the Merrimack Valley, let alone the Greater Boston area. So, the argument that there is some kind of economic benefit for the city or for the average citizen of Haverhill to come from eliminating our rural areas is kind of silly. However, there is a serious detriment that would come from this. You’re jeopardizing our water supply, our clean air and our future ability to pivot in relation to climate change and other natural disasters. To me, this zoning seems very short-sighted and designed to reward a very small number of people at the expense of the greater community,” Bergeron said.

The consulting firm, Utile, that helped write the new master plan acknowledged Haverhill’s mixture or urban and country sections as a draw.

Besides the change allowing for cluster developments by special permit, there are seven other proposed changes. They include prohibitions on safe injection sites and adult-use marijuana social consumption sites in all zones and allowing accessory apartments to exceed the current footprint of a building as long as the location otherwise complies with all setback requirements.

Other than housing, Planning Board members generally expressed satisfaction with plans to encourage more building within existing industrial parks—particularly the Ward Hill Business Park. The consensus, however, was redevelopment of the former Haverhill “Dutton” Airport, near Kenoza Lake, may have to be placed on the back burner.

The Haverhill City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m., in the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. City Council Chambers in City Hall, 4 Summer St., Haverhill. As a public service, 97.9 WHAV will carry the meeting live.

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