Council Subcommittee Halts Proposed Haverhill Zoning Changes and Other Housing Measures

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Plans for addressing Haverhill’s housing crisis—from reducing lot sizes to shifting building approvals away from the City Council—were met with opposition Monday night and concluded with a “wait and see” approach.

The decision by the City Council’s Administration and Finance Committee, headed by Councilor Melinda E. Barrett, also takes off the table measures proposed Mayor James J. Fiorentini that would have been on the City Council agenda next Tuesday.

The administration over the last several years has suggested, among other things, increasing housing availability by changing existing zoning ordinances affecting Residential Medium areas as well as decreasing minimum lot sizes in Residential Rural areas. A number of residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the second idea, including Sam Bergeron.

“Of the land left in Haverhill that is open, we’re talking about roughly 3,200 acres. So, once you factor in roads and other development infrastructure, maybe 2,000 lots. Is that going to tip the needle?” He asked.

Bergeron pointed out increased housing in rural residential areas will also likely be a detriment to farmers already in that area.

Another part of the mayor’s plan included taking construction approval out of the hands of the City Council and turning it over to the Planning Board. It’s an idea that did not sit well with a number of residents such as Susan Cloutier who questioned why especially since the City Council is poised to expand its representation in January.

“Why would we give up the voting power for the City Council which now represents more areas in the city over to zoning?” She asked.

Resident Christine Kwitchoff summed up what committee members ultimately agreed is the problem. “I think we’re doing this backwards, proposing a zoning change without having a strategy, without having a plan to execute this,” she said.

Kwitchoff and Bergeron raised similar issues more than three years ago when the Planning Board heard a proposal to reducing residential rural lot sizes from 80,000 to 40,000 square feet—or from about two acres to one.

Following public input, the committee agreed the issue is too complex to be resolved at a single meeting. They agreed unanimously to recommend the City Council spend the next two months considering all aspects of the issue and revisiting it again after Barrett becomes mayor in January.

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