By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – The City Council’s Finance and Ordinance Committees have both endorsed the Lower Millyard project, setting the stage for a final vote at next Tuesday’s full City Council meeting.
Meanwhile, more details are emerging on a planned commercial development that will border on a publicly-funded Lower Millyard park.
The Lower Millyard proposal revolves around the creation of a new Heritage Park, which officials hope will become the centerpiece of a new, redeveloped piece of the downtown area. Mayor Thatcher Kezer has said the project will spur new development, and Dan Healey, who owns the Carriage Mills office complex on Water Street, said he is prepared to build a new expansion to his building if the proposal is approved.
The proposal is divided into four items, which are each before the council and have been voted on individually by the committees. The four items include a proposal to establish the new Heritage Park, a proposal to accept the $400,000 Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant, a proposal to accept land being donated for the park by Healey and a proposal to appropriate $725,000 to fund the park’s construction.
On Monday, the Finance Committee voted in favor of recommending all four items. The first three items were endorsed unanimously, while the fourth was favored 8-1, with councilor Joseph McMilleon casting the lone “no” vote.
Last night, the Ordinance Committee recommended all four items.
Throughout the discussion, opponents of the project have argued that the public sector is shouldering too much of the project’s cost and the private sector needs to take on a bigger load. To address those concerns, Healey presented the councilors with a packet of information laying out his plans and the explaining the investments that Lower Millyard landowners have already made in anticipation of Heritage Park’s creation.
Healey said his plans are to expand the building by constructing 30,000 square feet of new office space in place of the existing tin sheds adjacent to the building. He also presented the councilors with an information packet containing private investment figures and artist renderings of the new expansion.
“Depending on the makeup and type of industry that’s interested, he could bring in a couple new businesses to that facility,” said Eric Gregoire, the mayor’s Chief of Staff. “So, those buildings, he was describing what his plan is, right now he’s in the conceptual design of those, and he’s working on finalizing them, depending on all of this coming to fruition.”
Healey’s report included numbers from four private entities: The Chestnut St. Realty Trust, which is comprised of four ARC Technology buildings on Chestnut, Elm and Morrill St.; the Water St. Realty Trust, which includes 9, 21 and 25 Water St.; the Hunt Road LLC, which includes 37 South Hunt Road, another ARC building; and the Oakland St. LLC, which will soon include 1-9 Oakland St, the Durasol Drug Building.
The first three entities have combined to purchase $7,350,000 worth of property and invest $6,189,669 into building improvements between 1995 and 2012, according to Healey’s report. The Oakland St. LLC is in the process of closing on its new Oakland St. properties, and the report indicates that it will invest $2,600,000 in additional building improvements by the end of the year.
The report also indicates that $2,205,406 in taxes was paid from the real estate between 1995 and 2012.
Another concern that was raised by the councilors regarded a condition attached to the city’s accepting Healey’s donated land at 25 Water St., which was that Amesbury would accept full responsibility for any cleanup costs associated with the donated Heritage Park land, including work required if hazardous materials are found in the soil.
Specifically, the councilors wanted to know who would pay for the cleanup if the land turned out to have more contaminants than expected. Kezer said his expectation is that the cleanup would be eligible for state assistance.
“The long and short of it is Mass Development has indicated that the project is eligible for their funding for brownfield cleanup,” Kezer said. “We have a general idea of what the cost will be, it will be somewhere between $80,000 and $200,000 depending on the depth of the soil in that area, and that it’s all eligible for Mass Development funding.”
Not willing to leave the issue to chance, councilor Bob Lavoie proposed an amendment to the bill saying that the city could accept the donated land, but no municipal funds would be used to clean up the land if any surprises were found.
The amendment assuaged the doubts held by some of the councilors, and councilor James Kelcourse said it prompted him to change his mind on the issue.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the City Hall Auditorium.