By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Gloucester’s Fort neighborhood is one step closer to becoming home to a new waterfront hotel after a City Council subcommittee voted late Thursday night to support all of the required special permits for the project.
The City Council’s Planning and Development subcommittee’s unanimous 3-0 decisions on each account means the subcommittee, headed by councilor-at-large and former four-term Mayor Bruce Tobey, formally recommends the full council to approve each permit necessary for Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo and New Balance owner Jim Davis — organized as Beauport Gloucester LLC -- to build the 101-room hotel on Pavilion Beach.
“...The adverse effects of the proposed use will not outweigh the benefits of its proposed impact to the city and the Fort neighborhood...,” said subcommittee member Jackie Hardy, who also serves as City Council president.
“There is a demand for a year-round hotel in Gloucester,” Hardy added.
The recommendation means that the full council could cast a final vote Tuesday after that night’s pubic hearing on whether or not to approve the special permits needed for the project. Those include motions for a lowlands permit, a beach deed, a special height permit, and a parking permit, generator noise plans, traffic plans and lighting — all of which the Planning and Development panel Thursday night recommended for approval.
Beauport Gloucester LLC does face some requirements and constraints still. In order to obtain the subcommittees blessing for the special height permit, Beauport erected metal staging to demonstrate the height of the proposed hotel. Tobey has asked that Beauport leave the staging up through Tuesday’s hearing.
The city will also require the hotel to hire a full-time staff member to work as a liaison to the city.
Because the Fort area is zoned as a marine industrial section of the city, rather than purely residential, the sound maximum is 70 decibels, rather than the 55 decibel maximum for residential neighborhoods, a “large difference,” according to building inspector Bill Sanborn. Beauport builders must take extra precautions to diffuse the noise of a loud generator and purchase to sound measuring tools, one for themselves and one for the city.
Councilors had considered converting the Fort into a residential neighborhood in relation to maximum sound allowed, but Councilwoman Hardy pointed out that would be unfair to existing businesses.
“I don’t think that’s fair to anybody who has another business down in that area that makes more noise than I could possibly conceive a hotel making,” Hardy said.
The votes from the three-person subcommittee at the Rose Baker Senior Center Thursday night drew groans of dismay from many at the meeting, but motions regarding the deed to Pavilion Beach and Beauport Gloucester LLC’s seawall plans seemed to hit the opposition hardest.
Opponents have relied on a study commissioned by the Fort Community Alliance group that has most adamantly opposed the project. The study and report, written by Dr. Paul Godfrey, a UMass-Amherst emeritus professor of biology, specializing in Coastal Plant Ecology, Barrier Island Management, and Plant Geography, found a wide variety of problems with the hotel proposal.
Godfrey had suggested Gloucester allow the property to become sand dunes, rather than develop it as a hotel property.
“This not only would multiply the existing problems and cause the rapid total loss of the beach and irreparable damage to the critical eelgrass beds but would place all of the businesses on the harbor side of Commercial Street, from Ocean Crest to Intershell, all of Stacy Boulevard, and in particular the homes at risk of destruction with even a modest tidal surge,” Godfrey wrote.
Yet, Lester B. Smith, Jr., Beauport Gloucester LLC’s engineer and environmental consultant for the project, countered Godfrey’s study points at the subcommittee meeting Thursday night stressing that the project, to be 200 feet from any eelgrass beds, would have no impact on the eelgrass beds, that the hotel building would protect Commercial Street from stray sand and positively impact the neighborhood, and that the hotel seawall would act as a barrier just like the one that exists now as part of the Birdseye building.
“Take a look at the existing building’s edge. That’s a seawall,” Smith said. “Have we seen death and destruction because a seawall is there? No.”
Subcommittee members said they looked forward to hearing more perspectives from every angle at the city council meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Kyrouz Auditorium in City Hall.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.