City councilors shot down a $750,000 loan authorization for the purchase of the Brierneck Crossing site on Thatcher Road on Tuesday night.
The loan was the linchpin of nonprofit Friends of Good Harbor’s proposal to orchestrate the sale of the 9.5-acre parcel and place it in the city’s hands. Councilors voted the loan authorization down 5-4 at the close of a public hearing during Tuesday night’s council meeting.
The nonprofit and neighborhood residents said the loan order and Gloucester’s eventual purchase would have ended the city’s four decades-long fight over Brierneck Crossing. But some councilors said the city shouldn’t buy another lot it can’t afford to keep up.
While the Thatcher Road site would be worth preserving, councilors said that preservation shouldn’t be done with city money. The nonprofit, they said, also didn’t have a clear plan for who would restore the site after the city purchased it.
“I’m for open space …” said Council President Jackie Hardy, “ but we don’t maintain the open space that we have.”
Hardy said the city owns a lot of marshland and doesn’t have plans for its upkeep yet. Those lots, she said, have the same problems that the Brierneck Crossing area does and need restoration of their own. She said she wasn’t willing to take on another parcel that the city wasn’t going to maintain.
Hardy and Councilors Greg Verga, Bruce Tobey, Bob Whynott and Steve Le-Blanc voted against the loan authorization last night. Councilors Paul McGeary, Joe Ciolino, Melissa Cox and Sefatia Romeo-Theken voted for the project, saying it would preserve the Good Harbor Beach area.
A crowd of residents attended the hearing; the majority spoke in favor of the loan, citing how the project would preserve the deteriorating Good Harbor marsh. Two residents spoke against the proposal, and told the council that taxpayers’ dollars shouldn’t go toward the project.
Denton Crews, spokesperson for the Friends of Good Harbor, said the group doesn’t have a plan B right now. The funding from private donors, state grants and the Community Preservation Act required the city’s loan authorization.
“The project is necessarily complex and involves multiple parties who must be engaged in assessing options and creating alternative plans,” Crews said in a prepared statement. “It will not be possible to speculate on future direction until those consultations occur.”
The Friends commissioned a Salem Sound Coastwatch study of the marsh that’s being done over the summer, Crews said.
McGeary said the loan order would have secured a parcel the city has fought development on since the 1970s. If the city could purchase that property, McGeary said it would preserve the health of the Good Harbor Marsh, and Good Harbor Beach.
“In this case,” McGeary said, “we must choose preservation.”
City Council voted on the $750,000 loan authorization that would have provided money to buy the 9.5 acre Brierneck Crossing site from Brier Neck Realty LLC. The parcel’s appraised value sits at $720,000. The authorization was part of the Friends of Good Harbor’s proposal to buy the property back from Brier Neck Realty and place it in city hands.
Gloucester’s latest fight started when North Andover developer James Grifoni proposed condominiums for the site. He won court approval to do that through the state Chapter 40B law, which allows developers to bypass local zoning. Grifoni has taken no action on the site.
Gloucester’s Community Preservation Committee recommended spending $150,000 of the city’s $319,000 Community Preservation Act dollars for the project. The nonprofit has raised $50,000 in donations and pledges and received a $50,000 grant from the Dusky Foundation. Brier Neck Realty LLC would contribute $125,000 after the sale, said Crews. The city’s Conservation Commission applied for a $375,000 Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity or LAND grant from the state.
The LAND grant required the city to appropriate the funding, and would then reimburse it for the amount awarded. That’s why, said McGeary, the city had to take out the loan authorization. The authorization said that all money had to be in-hand or committed at the time of the sale, or the loan couldn’t be taken out.
Even with that language, councilors said funding can fall through, and that the project could have cost the city more than $750,000 depending on the restoration costs.
“Even if we support buying the property it should not be bought with public funds,” said Whynott.
Whynott said the city had private funding in line for the Rose Baker Senior Center but that money fell through and the city picked up the difference. Pledges, he said, don’t always convert into dollars.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenGDT