Council Approves Merrimack River Condos After Developer Agrees to Further Concessions

Architect’s original rendering of three proposed condominium buildings on Railroad Street.

Clarification: The story has been updated to note that while the developer agreed to reduce the number of units to 45, the City Council did not include the revised total in its vote.

The third try was a charm for plans to build three waterfront condominium buildings on the Merrimack River in Bradford.

The Haverhill City Council, last night, voted to approve construction of what ultimately was 48 condominiums by developer Ernest Cioto on a 1.4-acre property located at 38 Railroad St. At one point, the developer agreed to drop one unit from each building for a total of 45 units, but councilors did not make the amendment. Chris Crump, one of the project’s architects, described the plans.

“Three individual buildings, each building consisting of 16 residential condominiums. They’ll be eight one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units in each building. Each building steps down in height towards the river to allow all units to have water views and all units will be sold at full market value. No section eight housing,” he said.

The proposal had been before the Council twice before—once in July of 2019 when Cioto had sought to build 60 units. After hearing opposition from some residents of the area, he withdrew that proposal and came back with another plan reducing the number of units to 54. That plan was also met with resistance and was, once again, withdrawn.

While last night’s proposal addressed many of those concerns, some neighbors said they had not gone far enough. Opponents focused on the impact of increased traffic in the area and the size of the buildings themselves. Neighbors Dana Fields and William Gould Jr. both questioned the developer’s interpretation of what is allowed “by right” in the city’s waterfront overlay zone. Gould objected to the size of the buildings compared to other housing in the area.

“We are here to talk about a project that is clearly out of scope with the area it is being proposed for. The project takes very liberal zoning ordinances and abuses them, pushes them to their limit and ultimately breaks them. This project fails many tests but, first and foremost, it fails the basic test of reasonableness,” Gould said.

Cioto’s lawyer, Attorney Paul A. Magliocchetti, countered zoning allows additional housing to be built when parts of an existing building are rehabilitated. He noted the developer intends to reuse sections of existing foundation walls, concrete floor and brick walls.

Fields also questioned whether the project is consistent with the character of the neighborhood. Council Vice President Colin F. LePage responded such an interpretation of the rules would have ruled out construction of the 10-story Heights building in a waterfront zone downtown.

Councilor Michael S. McGonagle argued that while there are concerns, it is a good project for the city overall.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan, however, said going ahead with a project of this magnitude without taking care of infrastructure first is a mistake. “I think that before we can continue to allow major development along the Merrimack River, in this particular stretch, we have got to come up with a transformational road improvement system. We’re not doing our own homework here,” he said.

The proposal passed by a vote of 6-3 with Council President Melinda E. Barrett and Councilors LePage, Timothy J. Jordan, William J. Macek, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and McGonagle in favor and Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua, John A. Michitson and Thomas J. Sullivan and opposed.

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