A city councilor says a vote next week could result in some action happening on a harborfront parcel that's been undeveloped for 50 years.
On Tuesday, City Council will consider whether or not to appeal to the state Legislature to remove the I-4, C-2 parcel from Gloucester's Designated Port Area. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Kyrouz Auditorium at City Hall.
Removing the lot at 65 Rogers St. from the DPA designation would mean some of the regulations of what could be built there could be relaxed or no longer apply, and development could commence, said Councilor Bruce Tobey, chairman of the planning and development subcommittee
The council's planning and development subcommittee made the motion to recommend the full council seek help from the Legislature.
"It's going to have to be the case that it is narrow, strategic and surgical," Tobey said. "This is not about rewriting the boundaries in a wholesale way at all."
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, however, says voting on a special legislative action is moving too fast.
A request for special legislative action requires approval by the City Council and the mayor to sign off on it. Kirk says the possible vote at the council's meeting Monday night leaves her with a lot of questions.
"It's going to beg the question," she said, "is this self-serving because the city owns the parcel, as a number of property owners have desired relief (from regulation)?"
Tobey said without legislative action the odds of the state's Coastal Zone Management Agency approving a DPA boundary review for the I-4,C-2 are slim to none.
If City Council were to apply for the boundary review, City Solicitor Suzanne Egan has said it would need to prove that the property doesn't belong in the Designated Port Area. The director of Coastal Zone Management doesn't have discretion in that regard.
Also, if the property meets one of four criteria for a DPA parcel, it can't be pulled out, according to a manual from the New England School of Law. The criteria are:
The site has to be one that wasn't added to the DPA fewer than five years ago.
Marine industrial usage cannot have occurred on the property for more than five years.
The site cannot be a parcel recommended for review previously.
The lot cannot be bounded entirely by DPA land or water.
The I-4, C-2 lot has stymied development for the last few years. The city put out a bid for proposals for the property in November; not a single developer was interested. When the city asked why, those questioned said the complicated development on the lot would produce a return not worth the investment.
"Just sitting there and hoping a developer will do what you want to do isn't realistic," said Damon Cummings, a local harbor preservation activist who's taken part in several harbor planning efforts.
The lack of imagination that requesting to pull the parcel out of DPA shows is staggering, Cummings said.
I-4, C-2 is one of the few publicly-owned parts of the city's waterfront, and therefore one of the few eligible for state Seaport Advisory Council funding. The city paid $1.5 million for the parcel in 2010 using $800,000 of Seaport Advisory dollars.
Cutting the parcel out of the DPA, Cummings said, wouldn't be something the state, which put money up to buy it, will look kindly on.
Rather than pull the parcel out, he said, the city should leverage some state funding and draw some private investment to the site. That, and do something with the lot across the street. If something could go where the backside of Empire and CVS is, he said, the parcel could be a showplace for Gloucester.
Kirk said the city will look at DPA boundaries and requirements as it moves ahead on the 2012 Harbor Planning process. While the harbor plan doesn't have the power, by itself, to change things, Kirk said it would find where consensus on the DPA is.
A special legislative action, Kirk added, needs support of the area's legislative delegation, City Council, her administration and other stakeholders.
"I don't see that that coalition has been built yet," Kirk added.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester said if City Council asks him, he'll take a look the proposal. If the DPA isn't encouraging waterfront development at the site like it should, Tarr said, then maybe it should be removed. Tarr added that he's willing to explore every avenue to make that site productive.
"I-4,C-2 is one of the most strategically important parcels in the city, and for too long it has been stagnant," Tarr said. "It's critically important that we make it productive."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.