, Newburyport, MA

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.

Hall said that this proposed development would offer a short walk to the city, access to the nearby Bartlet Mall and proximity to the commuter rail operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

Because the terrain is characterized by a significant incline on one side, some of the “cluster” buildings could be built into the earth to minimize the area that would be exposed to the cold.

“Urban farming” opportunities would be offered, including greenhouses for those who want to start their growing in the winter.

The acreage is an R-3 zone, which encourages multiple units.

The developer declined to predict how many dwellings will be built but said there “could” be three clusters and there “could” be eight units in a cluster. Designers will stress open space.

Units will be leased, not sold.

About 20 percent will be earmarked for “affordable” housing, said Hall, a University of New Hampshire graduate who majored in zoology.

Those that are available on the open market might be leased for about $2,000 per month.

“That figure is based on the likelihood that occupants will have little or no utility costs,” said Hall, one of the largest land owners in the city with 100 residential units and about 80,000 square feet of commercial space in firm portfolio.

Hall indicated that he will be engaged in the permitting process this winter, and under optimum conditions, construction could start in the spring.

He said that he has studied numerous green developments, including some in Iceland, and said his team is committed to offering residences that are sustainable in a part of the city where people can walk to the downtown, utilize public transportation and farm on shared property.

The Hall and Moskow development would be the second project near Route 1 to be made public in recent weeks.

MINCO Development Corp. of North Andover and Newburyport won a bid to construct 67 apartments on land owned by the MBTA near the Route 1 rotary and the train station.