Haverhill's future landscape will feature "village centers" where residents can walk to small retail shops.
It will also have expanded business parks designed to lure companies and create jobs for residents.
So says the city's new master plan, called "Vision Haverhill 2035," which has been approved by the Planning Board to control development in Haverhill for the next 15 years.
The nearly 90-page plan details how the city will manage residential and commercial growth. Haverhill launched an effort to update its master plan almost a year ago, with several public meetings held along the way and numerous changes to the plan taking place as it developed.
The plan includes recommendations for land use, housing, economic development, public facilities and services, natural and cultural resources, open space and recreation, and transportation.
Last Wednesday night's continuation of a public hearing on the master plan, held in City Council chambers in City Hall, followed a detailed presentation of the plan last month. The Planning Board approved the master plan at last Wednesday night's hearing, putting the plan into effect.
City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien, the council's representative to the mayor's master plan committee, said before the hearing that the master plan is not intended to be a panacea for addressing things such as the maintenance, renovation or construction of fire stations, schools or other municipal properties, and that those kinds of projects take place "outside of and parallel to" the master plan.
"Capital improvements are done through the annual budgetary process, which the council and mayor work on together," she said. "What the master plan does is establish a framework you build on, as you can't predict what a community will need in five or 10 years.
"The things that are most important are controlling growth, which gives you a bigger tax base which provides you with the funds to do capital improvements," she said.
Daly O'Brien said the old way of looking at development in the city's business parks was to construct single-story buildings and expand those buildings by spreading out rather than adding upper floors.
"The master plan looks at increasing the height of buildings to give us more business growth without taking over more rural land," she said. "What can we do in the Ward Hill Business Park, for example, to build more commercial space by building upwards and adding two or three stories onto buildings? The plan also considers ways of adding residential space without eating into rural space."
Mayor James Fiorentini called the master plan a "road map for the future" that included "input from the public who wanted the beauty and charm of the city preserved."
During the public portion of last week's hearing, several people voiced support for the plan, including Ken Cavallaro, president of the Greater Haverhill Foundation business organization, who said the city is changing and needs more businesses and high-tech jobs.
"I read all the time about the city wanting to have better public safety and more education," he said. "The way we get that is by growing the tax base, and the way we do that is by bringing in companies, employees and new housing."
Foundation member Mark Andrews said the city needed an updated master plan in order to receive certain state and federal grants.
Although he called it "a well-thought-out plan," East Broadway resident Don Cox said he was concerned with one aspect of the plan that proposes reducing residential rural lot size from about two acres to about one acre.
"I'm strongly opposed to that idea, as it could allow the urban sprawl the plan aims to prevent," Cox said.
At the conclusion of the public portion of the hearing, Planning Board Chairman Paul Howard, along with members Bob Driscoll, Karen Peugh, April DerBoghosian, Bill Evans, Kenneth Cram, Karen Buckley and Nate Robertson voted in favor of the plan. Member Alison Colby Campbell did not attend the meeting.
The master plan also outlines a variety of development possibilities based on zoning changes, including housing developments along the Bradford side of the Merrimack River on properties that have sat vacant for years, such as the former Haverhill Paperboard company site.
Creating eight "village centers" through zoning changes is designed to allow for townhouse-scale multifamily housing, with some ground-floor retail space, where appropriate, so residents can walk to local cafes and grocery stores.
Areas potentially targeted for that village concept include Ayers Village, Broadway and Forest Street, Washington Street and High Street, Primrose Street and Garden Street, Main Street and Primrose Street, South Main Street and Bradford Avenue, Groveland Street and East Broadway, and sites along the river.
The plan calls for revising zoning to allow for commercial uses on upper floors of buildings in the city's business parks, with zoning recommendations for increased building height and fewer parking requirements.
Haverhill has four business parks: Ward Hill, Broadway, Hilldale Avenue and a smaller one on Newark Street.
Promoting downtown growth involves a suggestion in the master plan to potentially replace the Merrimack Street parking deck with expanded mixed-use development.
The master plan seeks to retain the city's nearly 3,400 acres of open space and also calls for protecting the river as a natural resource, as well as preserving the city's steams, watersheds, lakes and ponds.
The number of senior citizens in Haverhill is expected to nearly double between now and 2035, while the number of children is projected to decrease by almost 15 percent.
To address these projections, the master plan recommends creating housing for young couples who may not have children, and encourages the creation of middle- and moderate-income housing and additional elderly housing.
You can see the entire master plan online at visionhaverhill2035.org/.