Haverhill Councilors Advance Plans for New Business Park at Former Dutton Airport

A 1977 United States Geological Survey aerial photograph shows the longer runway then in use and a shorter runway to the left that was already abandoned.

The Haverhill City Council this week approved the first step toward creating a new business park at the former Dutton Airport site, off Interstate 495 near Northern Essex Community College.

Councilors agreed Tuesday to modify site zoning from “office park” to “business park” and overlay a “commercial highway” zone by a vote of 8-0. Haverhill Director of Economic Development and Planning William Pillsbury Jr. gave an overview of plans.

“The new business park would be on the north side of Route 110 where we will create a new roadway entrance with a signalized intersection across from Elliot Street. And, I want to point out very clearly, this will be the only entrance to the business park. There will be no access from Route 108,” he explained.

Pillsbury noted both the Ward Hill and Broadway Parks are already at capacity and the Dutton site makes room to attract new companies to the city. He stressed prospective companies are most interested in areas with easy access to major roadways. He added the park would have the capacity to accommodate up to 800,000 square feet of new industrial space.

Pillsbury also pointed out the project could provide upwards of 1,000 high paying jobs for residents and provide significant tax relief for Haverhill homeowners. City Assessor Christine Webb explained.

“More industrial and commercial land and buildings means a greater percentage of our tax levy being paid for by the CIP classes, which are the commercial, industrial and personal property classes, which lowers the tax burden for the residential class,” she said.

The city would work closely on the project with the Greater Haverhill Foundation, a nonprofit initially founded to build the Ward Hill Park and ultimately was instrumental in the development of Harbor Place, downtown.

Greater Haverhill Foundation President Kenneth J. Cavallaro, former President Thomas L. Mortimer and former Managing Director Ronald G. Trombley said the Foundation’s interest is a natural progression of community service the group has performed over more than 50 years.

A number of residents spoke in opposition to the planned development, expressing concern primarily with possible environmental impacts. Among them Chris Todino, who said he is worried about what kind of businesses would reside in the park.

“What are they potentially doing to the air that I breathe, the water that I drink? This is just the first in the beginning of a slippery slope of additional proposals that are going to come down the pike and erode the rural nature of our community,” he said.

Others expressed concerns about the possibility of pollution seeping into the city’s primary water supply at Kenoza Lake as well as noise pollution.

Haverhill Community Development Director Andrew K. Herlihy responded, saying the city already hired a company to look closely at any environmental impacts. He promised the review will be extensive.

“We’re going to be pursuing federal and state grants for this project, some very significant grants. These are going to require us to do an enhanced federal environmental review and MEPA standards. So again, something we’re taking extremely seriously,” he said.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan suggested the city and developers also consider construction of a new Haverhill fire station somewhere in the new park. He referred to earlier discussions that a new fire station near any I-495 exit would improve response times to such outlying areas as Ayers and Rocks Villages. Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski also recommended the city aim for greatest transparency to keep the public in the loop as the process continues.

Council President Timothy J. Jordan recused himself from the vote because he serves on the board of Greater Haverhill Foundation which is working with private landowners to assemble the land, engineer plans for the infrastructure and position the property for business park uses.

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