As Planning Board members and City Councilors start reviewing the Commercial Street rezoning proposal, citizens' groups and other residents are mobilizing efforts they say are aimed at better preserving the character of the city's working waterfront.
Groups including Citizens for Gloucester Harbor, Occupy Cape Ann and a Fort Task Force among others gathered Monday night at what organizers called a "public outreach" forum at the Cape Ann Theatre, otherwise known as "The Annie."
The meeting, said James "Jimmy T" Tarantino, one of the organizers, got people talking about the future of Gloucester's waterfront and prompted some residents and groups to take further action through signing petitions and buying T-shirts urging officials to "Save Gloucester."
"There's huge momentum growing out of this," said Ann Molloy of Neptune's Harvest.
Meanwhile, the City Council and Planning Board are seeking to tie down the date for the first true public hearing on the rezoning proposal being advanced by Beauport Gloucester LLC, the group headed by New Balance founder Jim Davis that plans to build a hotel complex on the former Birdseye site.
Ed Collard, member of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said it's clear that something has to happen to that site.
A hotel, he said, would generate revenue for the city and for downtown as a whole. It may help, he said, fill some of the vacancies on Main Street.
"It will bring revenue downtown, and help fill storefronts," Collard said.
Beauport is expected to come forward with a hotel development project that industry experts have projected could be priced at up to $75 million.
But first, the company is proposing an overlay zoning district for 33 and 47 Commercial St. that would cover the Outer Harbor side of Commercial Street from the so-called Chamber of Commerce building, owned by local developer Mac Bell, to the point where the Birdseye property meets Fort Square. The proposal does not include the small structure at 65 Commercial St.
The overlay would add uses to the marine industrial zoning, but would not displace it.
The City Council's Planning and Development subcommittee, said Chairman Bruce Tobey, expects to hold the first of two public hearings on the rezoning plan in early March, with a second hearing to be held by the council in the coming months.
Other meetings, he said, will be for the committee, not for public comment.
Tarantino said his group's next step should be to reach out to Davis, whose newly formed limited liability company bought the Birdseye building for $6.5 million from Mac Bell last year.
Tarantino said that, before residents and citizens' groups take their stand regarding Davis and Beauport's project, they need to talk to him and see if he knows of their concerns. They're also looking to make their concerns with the rezoning known on a wider level, he said.
If enough people sign on in opposition of Beauport's rezoning proposal, Tarantino said, then the city will have to re-examine its thoughts on rezoning.
City officials, he said, appear to have decided what they want on that site; the signatures, he said, will show them what residents want.
"We believe that the people of Gloucester who love it most should decide (the harbor's) future, rather than people who stand to profit the most from it," Tarantino said.
The Citizens for Gloucester Harbor's petition drive was launched earlier this month. While those petitions are still circulating, Tarantino said he has seen more than 20 pages of them virtually filled as of last week.
Most of the people speaking at Monday's gathering, hosted by Tarantino, said they want Gloucester to pursue a marine industrial path in line with the current zoning and, they said, with the city's November Maritime Summit.
The Rev. Rona Tyndall, who lives on Beach Court, said the city should build Gloucester for Gloucester, rather than for visitors. An authentic city, with its own culture, will draw more visitors anyway, she said.
Suzanne Altenburger said the city needs to focus on industries — like sustainable boat building — that can work effectively in a small port like Gloucester's.
"It's a small project," she said, "But it's an example of what could be done here,"
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.