Neighbors of two motor inns on Gloucester's Back Shore are opposing the businesses' proposal for a new hotel overlay district that would allow them to expand and add rooms, without having to seek additional city permits.
The overlay proposal heads tonight to a public hearing hosted by the Planning Board and City Council Planning and Development Subcommittee. The hearing starts at 7 at City Hall's Kyrouz Auditorium.
If approved, the overlay would allow the Atlantis Oceanfront Inn and the Bass Rocks Ocean Inn to expand, modify or replace their buildings on Atlantic Road. Atlantic Road's residential zoning, with the inns operating as non-conforming uses, effectively prevents the hotels from expanding. Both inns are seasonal, and both are scheduled to open Friday.
Michael Faherty, the Gloucester attorney representing the inns, said the new overlay zone would merely allow for a use that's been there for decades.
Faherty submitted the proposal in March, and it is the second overlay to go before the Planning Board this year.
The Atlantic Road overlay comes as the city reviews Beauport Gloucester LLC's proposed hotel overlay district for 33 and 47 Commercial St. Beauport's proposal is up for a City Council public hearing Tuesday.
Some supporters of the Fort overlay proposal say they're opposing this one.
They're opposing it for a specific reason, said at-large City Councilor Joe Ciolino, who lives on High Popples Road off Atlantic Road.
He said neighbors have called him and voiced their concern about what the proposed Back Shore overlay district would allow "by right" — changes that could be made to the property without going back through the council, Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals.
"(That's) without having to submit any plans to the Zoning Board or any of us, their neighbors, who will be drastically affected by this rezoning, should it pass," Jane Fonzo, an abutter, stated in an e-mail to neighbors obtained by the Times.
Beauport Glocuester LLC's Commercial Street overlay proposal, Ciolino said, would require any hotel plans to undergo a major project review with the Planning Board and receive a City Council special permit before moving forward.
The overlay zone pegged for the Back Shore allows by right any alteration, replacement, or expansion that results in an increase of 30 percent of the number of hotel guest units up to 45 feet in height.
Residential uses, allowed in the zoning, would also be allowed by right, as well are existing accessory uses. If the expansion takes the guest unit count over a 30 percent increase, the owners will need to come before City Council for a special permit.
"The proposed hotel overlay district is designed to encourage expansion of the areas in existing uses and economic vitality by permitting the alteration, expansion or replacement of existing hotels and supporting uses," the plan states.
Other neighbors also disagree.
It's a residential neighborhood, said Kathy Clancy, a School Committee member who lives on High Popples Road, and adding height and rooms adds density to the neighborhood.
That's density, she said, the neighborhood has some trouble dealing with when the motels open in the summer. Density, she said, and other concerns like height and traffic should be addressed by the city special permit process, not allowed by right.
"You'd want people to review what they're doing before they do it," she said.
Clancy, who joined other School Committee members in speaking in favor of the Beauport LLC Fort overlay proposal, also said the Back Shore district is different from Beauport's hotel project. The Back Shore overlay, she said, would add traffic and density to a residential area, rather than an additional commercial use in a commercial area.
Both of the Back Shore inns were built when the city had a hotel district on Atlantic Road. When the city changed the zoning to residential, it prevented the hotels from getting any bigger due to setback and density requirements for a hotel in the residential zone. Both hotels have fewer than 60 rooms.
The Atlantic Road overlay district would require a building with a minimum lot area of 40,000 square feet, 750 square feet of lot area per guest unit, 200 square feet of open space per guest unit, a maximum height of 45 feet, and a minimum distance of 10 feet between principal buildings. The owner can also opt to put a contiguous area of 10,000 square feet of open space all in the front yard of the premises, or maintain existing setbacks.
Fonzo's e-mail states that neighbors have other concerns with expansion as outlined in the proposal, including the potential for diminished property values, the 45-foot height allowed by right, traffic and parking, adequacy of the sewer services, obstructed views, shadow lines, congestion, and the fact that the two other inns on the street could go looking for the same kind of overlay.
Ciolino said those concerns would be addressed through the council's special permit process, or even by seeking a Zoning Board of Appeals variance. That would involve neighbors and the city in the process and a by right expansion doesn't require that kind of oversight, he added.
"If they want to expand," he said, "that's fine, but they should go through the process."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.