GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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April 7, 2008

Settlement opens door to music hall

ROCKPORT — Quiet tension turned to thunderous cheers and applause in Rockport High School's crowded gymnasium Saturday — but this was no sporting event.

The reaction came when an estimated 500 Town Meeting voters learned the Rockport Chamber Music Festival had reached a settlement with abutter Gary Puryear over a lawsuit that had threatened the festival's planned downtown performance center.

The agreement clears the way for construction of the $17.5 million Shalin Liu Performance Center. It also prompted the festival to drop its bid to create a new downtown "cultural overlay district," a zone that would have included 26 Main Street properties, including the music hall site. Two Town Meeting articles related to the zoning district were never moved forward for votes.

"The last 24 hours have been very intense," Festival Chairman Thomas Burger said Saturday afternoon. "This settlement is better than a win on the Main Street Cultural Overlay District vote because of what it does for us. We still would've been in court with the guy ... but the lawsuit is being withdrawn and we can move forward."

Prior to the vote on the proposed zoning district, festival board member William Hausman was chosen to deliver what many residents called "wonderful news."

"After intense negotiations over the last 72 hours, the festival and the Puryears reached a settlement that will result in the end of the court case," Hausman announced from the podium. "I hope you will rejoice with us that this lengthy period has come to a close. We hope to get back on track with fundraising and begin (construction) this fall."

Puryear had filed a legal challenge to the Zoning Board of Appeals' permit issued to the festival for the 325-seat performance center. Terms of the settlement will remain confidential, festival officials said. It was unclear whether the festival acquired Puryear's property, which had been assessed at $750,000. According to Burger, Puryear initially wanted $2.25 million for the property — an amount the festival soon rejected — but Puryear said he never proposed a $2.25 million buy-out.

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