Haverhill Council Balks After Being Left Out as Brandy Brow Road Land Supplants Corliss Hill Lot

Haverhill City Council President Melinda E. Barrett. (WHAV News photograph by Jay Saulnier.)

Haverhill’s city administration appears to favor purchasing one parcel in East Haverhill over another to protect water supplies. It ruffled feathers among members of the City Council this week, however, when it left out the body that remains partly responsible under law for decision-making on such land deals.

Councilors responded by a largely symbolic 6-3 vote against ratifying the mayor’s decision. The lack of approval, however, could eventually cause questions about the property’s proper title.

Haverhill considered buying the 22.5-acre parcel owned by Daniel and Mark Byra at 97 Corliss Hill Road. Mayor James J. Fiorentini, however, apparently chose to forgo the offer when the possibility arose of buying a 29.4-acre Brandy Brow Road parcel closer to the Millvale Reservoir watershed.

City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. told councilors the city had a right of first refusal to buy the Corliss Hill Road land since it had been protected by conservation restrictions. Upon the possibility of purchasing the Brandy Brow land closer to the watershed, Cox said, Deputy Public Works Director Robert E. Ward recommended against buying the land for $400,000.

“We did spend a considerable amount of time reviewing this. I know Mr. Ward reviewed this matter and ultimately it was his recommendation that we pass on it at this time, as there are other properties that we are considering,” he said.

Through his lawyer, Richard P. Early, trustee of D&D Realty Trust, told councilors he would put off his plans two months to build 11 houses on Brandy Brow Road so the city can make an offer to buy his land instead. Councilors previously approved spending $272,000 for a “friendly taking” of nearby land on Groveland Bridge Road abutting the East Meadow River from Early’s trust.

Councilors balked Tuesday when they learned the deadline had already passed for making a decision on the Corliss Hill property. Cox said it was a moot point since both the mayor and council would have to agree to the purchase if the property was wanted.

Purchases of watershed land for protection are paid by water ratepayers rather than taxpayers.

Besides expiration of the first right of refusal Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua complained the process didn’t allow abutting neighbors to speak.

“What bothers me is that we have neighbors and abutters who could have provided input to the City Council and the mayor and they’re denied input. The Council’s vote tonight is simply to satisfy department who is cherry-picking other projects in the city to buy,” he said.

Council President Melinda E. Barrett also expressed her frustration at being left out of the decision-making process. “I know the mayor is the chief executive, but if there’s an issue that we’re both supposed to weigh in on, we can’t weigh in. We can stomp our feet and be miffed but our opportunity should have been weeks or months ago.”

Councilors Thomas J. Sullivan warned the Council should ratify the agreement if, for no other reason, not to create title problems for the landowners. He was joined by Councilors Mary Ellen Daly-O’Brien and William J. Macek in supporting the administration.

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