Three Haverhill Councilors Like Downtown Development Elements, But Say More is Needed Before Vote

Council President Timothy J. Jordan. (Mike Jarvis photograph for WHAV News.)

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

Three Haverhill city councilors say there’s a lot to like about a proposed $160 million downtown redevelopment, but more negotiations, contingency planning and a list of conditions are needed to protect the city.

Council President Timothy J. Jordan and Councilors John A. Michitson and Melissa J. Lewandowski made their own pitches Monday to delay tonight’s vote on the Lupoli Companies’ planned housing, retail and parking complex. Speaking with WHAV, they offered a rebuttal to Mayor James J. Fioretini’s intense lobbying in favor of the deal. Jordan, for one, said predictions of his opposition are premature.

“A lot about this project is, I think, potentially is really good. I think we would all agree, I think everybody, that the current parking garage was very poorly built and, arguably, been even worse maintained over all these years. In addition to not being terribly attractive, you’ve got leaking, you’ve got all sorts of issues there. So, the thought of getting a beautiful new parking garage, that definitely sounds very attractive. The images I’ve seen of the design look really attractive too and the idea of the open courtyard and talk of a skating area and other things making a place that’s a destination for downtown all sounds really good,” he said.

He said however the city isn’t providing adequate infrastructure, including school seats, roadways and firefighter staffing. He said these issues are not new or last minute, but rather have been raised for many years. He explains former Public Works Director Michael K. Stankovich estimated city roads need $18 million in repairs or replacement. Moreover, in 2019, councilors heard pleas from firefighters to increase staffing and, more recently, a compromise, asking to increase manning from 19 to 21 people.

He explained firefighter staffing has gone down over the last 18 years, while the city’s population has gone up by 10,000 people and “schools are bursting at the seams.” The latter problem, Jordan said, will only be made worse by 25% of Lupoli’s proposed apartments being designed as two-bedroom units. He said this will add anywhere from the developer’s estimate of 27 new students to far more enrollments.

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Michitson said the City Council is “obligated to strengthening our infrastructure as new developments are added, especially in succession as has been the case.” He argued, however, the city’s charter has few checks and balances, keeping the Council from, for example, directing money from the developer’s purchase price, taxes or fees into needed education and public safety improvements. Instead, the give and take between the City Council and mayor is the Council’s only tool.

“Currently, we have no long-range plan for city services so this is how we plan. This is what we need to do. There is no long-term plan for city services at all,” he said.

Michitson added developers should also place a bond, essentially insurance, to protect citizens or be forced to pay penalties if something goes wrong.

Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski. (Courtesy photograph.)

Like her colleagues, Lewandowski also praised aspects of the project.

“I’m excited about the good things that can happen and can come from this proposal, but I don’t believe right now is the time for it without first addressing a lot of those infrastructure needs,” she said.

She pointed out, however, the proposal is “a city within a city” and will have an effect on schools, including additional school buses; “already-crumbling roads;” and emergency services. What’s more, she said, the numbers of apartments may increase further if adjacent lots are developed. She argued she doesn’t think the project is “ready for a vote yet. I think it is ready for collaboration.”

“Let’s face it, bringing in all those new residences as well as buildings and businesses is going to increase emergency calls too—medical calls. We are not equipped to handle those things right now,” she said.

Lewandowski, noting the empty storefronts at Harbor Place said the Council needs to know more about the economics of Lupoli’s proposal and specific plans for attracting commercial tenants. Further, she said, the city should negotiate the possibility of some of the apartments being designated as condominiums to increase downtown ownership.

Jordan said he also doesn’t accept the mayor’s premise that this is Haverhill’s only chance. “It’ a scare tactic,” he charged.

Besides the city receiving the $1 million purchase price, the mayor said last week, it will enjoy about $2 million a year in new income up to $1.8 million in permitting fees and $190,000 in new excise taxes.

Developer Salvatore N. Lupoli’s plans call for 370 rental apartments, or up to 420 if agreement is reached on buying surrounding land, and up to 50,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.  The project needs the support of at least five city councilors. Two councilors, Joseph J. Bevilacqua and Michael S. McGonagle, can’t vote because of possible conflicts of interests.

The Haverhill City Council meets at 7 p.m. remotely and in-person at the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers, room 202, Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St., As a public service, 97.9 WHAV plans to carry the meeting live.

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