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August 24, 2013

Port's first 'urban farm' to break ground soon

NEWBURYPORT -- A residential townhouse development stressing solar power, water recycling, composting and urban farming is being planned on an abandoned five-acre site off Route 1, the first of its kind in Newburyport.

Developing the property is Hall and Moskow, the firm that produced The Tannery on Water Street.

The company is still working to clean the land and finalize financing but organizers say it will be a green development that will keep utility costs near zero.

“People who would consider living here would be thinking about a life style,” said David Hall, a principal of Hall and Moskow. He said those interested in urban farming and a “near-zero energy cost” would be attracted to such a residential retreat.

The parcel is located on Cottage Court, a small thoroughfare off Pond Street. It is proximate to the corner of Pond and Route 1.

The acreage was the site of a landscaping business owned by Bruce Hiller, who died in 2008. The property and its contents declined over the years, and Hall says much “dirty” soil had to be removed following testing.

About 105 truckloads -- almost 3,000 tons -- of suspect soil has been carted off. The land was bought three years ago, but because of soil issues Hall and his team are only now preparing to approach municipal boards to obtain permits.

Many developers would avoid acreage with contaminated dirt but Hall indicated his work in resurrecting commercial space at The Tannery on Water Street provided him with the experience to work with such soil.

Firm officials indicated that commercial banks are not interested in financing a development in that area. The company is getting financial support from MassDevelopment, a quasi-state agency that provides support to “unorthodox” construction opportunities. No financial figures were revealed.

The Hall and Moskow team received high marks from community leaders for developing The Tannery, the green assets of which include solar power, reconditioned construction products and a retractable roof covering that permits it to host a Farmer’s Market in four-season weather conditions.

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