Haverhill (MA) Downtown Development Project Prompts Concerns Over Firefighter Staffing

Haverhill MA Fire Department

Mike LaBella

The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.


Mar. 2—HAVERHILL — During a meeting that at one point became contentious, the City Council gave the go-ahead to a $160 million downtown redevelopment project proposed by the Lupoli Companies.

Following a public hearing on the request, councilors Melinda Barrett, Thomas Sullivan, John Michitson, Catherine Rogers and Shaun Toohey voted to support the project and also to sell city property that is needed for the project, while councilors Tim Jordan and Melissa Lewandowski voting against both requests.

Councilors Joseph Bevilacqua and Michael McGonagle abstained from voting, citing concerns about conflict of interest.

The Lupoli Companies, headed by developer Sal Lupoli, now plans to create 370 market rate apartments, replace the Goecke Deck on Merrimack Street with an 840-space parking garage that will be open to the public 24 hours a day, and create 51,000 square feet of mixed-use space that would include apartments, amenities for tenants, a food hall, retail and commercial space and a variety of outdoor public spaces.

Lupoli, who attended the hearing along with members of his team, said now it is time to move forward with the project as there are concerns about a rise in interest rates on loans, making the project more costly, as well as concerns about inflation.

Those who spoke out in favor of the project included Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College, who said his college already works with Lupoli.

One of the main points of opposition to the project came from City Councilor Jordan, who said he would not vote for it until the mayor addresses budget needs, notably an increase in firefighter staffing.

“The mayor has not adequately invested in public safety infrastructure,” Jordan said.

Members of Haverhill’s Firefighters Local 1011, including its president, Tim Carroll, spoke out in opposition to the project, saying they’ve been asking the mayor to increase staffing but he has ignored their requests.

“The mayor refused to address infrastructure and won’t deal with us,” Carroll said.

Fiorentini said he will hire more firefighters, noting the city applied for a grant to hire eight firefighters, but that he would not agree to the demands of firefighters to increase what is called “minimum manning,” which would boost the current three firefighters per truck to four.

“I have no problem with adding additional firefighters, but minimum manning, no no no we can’t do that as it will bankrupt the city,” Fiorentini said.

Fiorentini told the council to separate any budget demands from the project, and to bring their concerns forward during budget talks.

Sullivan said he and his fellow councilors would all like the mayor to hire more firefighters and build more schools to address concerns for overcrowding, but asked the council to not combine the issue of firefighter staffing with the Lupoli project.

“This is an offer to undo the damage of Urban Renewal,” Sullivan said. “It’s crazy not to approve this project.”

Barrett echoed Sullivan’s sentiment, saying “to link the two issues together is insane.”

Michitson asked the mayor to commit to adding four new firefighters in the next fiscal year budget.

“It sets the mayor up for extortion,” Fiorentini responded. “It sets a terrible precedent.”

Fiorentini eventually relented and agreed to Michitson’s request.

Toohey said he planned to “hold the mayor’s feet to the fire” and ensure the mayor carries through with his promise, adding that if the project did not pass, it would send a bad message to the development community.

“We want developers to know Haverhill is open for business,” he said.

Lewandowski questioned Sal Lupoli about what kind of tenants have been identified for the commercial spaces. She also asked for more specifics to be included in the developer’s agreement.

“No one wants to see just a food court and apartments,” she said. “It needs to be more descriptive.”

Immediately following the meeting, Lupoli called the vote a win for the residents of Haverhill.

“We’re going to put together a well thought out project that will incentivize people to move into the city, downtown, and create jobs and hopefully replace an eyesore that as you heard, has been an albatross,” he said.


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