By Richard Gaines
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said yesterday she will base a proposal for research into ways of redeveloping the harbor on a proposal drafted by a community group — one that does not share her belief that a hotel in a rezoned Fort should be part of the harbor area's future.
The recently constituted "Citizens for Gloucester Harbor" also contends that the state Designated Port Area boundary — which encircles much of the waterfront and imposes zoning-like use strictures — does not impede economic development that would fit with the future of the fishing industry, and that the DPA should remain in place.
Kirk said she has given herself a "mid-November" deadline for publishing the request for proposals.
Several members of the 15-citizen group met with the Times this week to deliver a copy of the "scope of work" document it had prepared for the mayor after a lengthy meeting with her.
The state's Seaport Advisory Council, which distributes grants from a $10 million annual appropriation to the small ports north and south of Boston, last April announced $400,000 for Gloucester to scope out options for reinvigorating the harbor.
Kirk said she expected $200,000 to be available this year and $200,000 next year, based on recent advice from Louis Elisa, executive director of the council which advises the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick. Lt. Gov. Tim Murray presides over the council.
Murray's press spokeswoman, Katie Joyce, told the Times yesterday she could not immediately confirm the timing of the release of the $400,000 economic planning grant, the largest ever made to Gloucester.
In the meeting with the Times, members of Citizens for Gloucester Harbor discussed their shared belief that the state Designated Port Area rules offer private property owners more latitude than is generally believed, and that the designation should not be changed or lifted.
Member Valerie Nelson explained her opposition to the idea of a hotel on the Commercial Street behind Pavilion Beach in a section that is outside the DPA as setting a dangerous precedent. "It's the camel's nose under the tent," she said.
The Planning Board on Monday night resumes a hearing on rezoning the section of the Fort along Commercial Street and throughout Fort Square that lies outside the DPA and thus is within the city's jurisdiction.
Kirk began the rezoning process last summer by sending the City Council a draft proposal that would change the west side of Commercial Street from a marine industrial zone where hotels are barred into a central business zone that allows hotels. She acknowledged that she wanted to start the redevelopment of the harbor at the Fort because developers have expressed interest in putting a Marriott on the former Birds Eye Foods property.
In community meetings last week updating her April State of the City report, Kirk repeatedly implored the community to understand the value to the economy of having a modern hotel. In Magnolia on Wednesday night, she argued that, without a downtown hotel, the local economy was losing access to a "walking wallet" brigade of passengers on the more than 400 tour buses that come through Gloucester each season.
Kirk also said she has been exploring with the state options for loosening, or redefining or shifting the DPA to allow for a broader range of activities than is allowed. She spoke specifically about the problems the DPA posed for Cape Pond Ice Co. and the Gloucester Marine Railway on Rocky Neck.
Both businesses are essential links in the chain of shore-side businesses needed for a hub fishing port.
Citizens for Gloucester Harbor argues that the strongest economic engine imaginable on the harbor would be one that ran within the strictures of the DPA.
The key to strengthening a working waterfront, the group said in a prepared statement is "to retain existing strictures protecting Gloucester Harbor, its commercial fisheries and marine-related activities under the DPA."
Kirk described her differences with the group as irrelevant to the need to get the research under way so that the city forge a development plan and get moving.
"I'm all about the work and the results, and I'm willing to tread into waters that are pretty choppy," Kirk said. "The bottom line is we want the same thing — economic vitality and a resurgence of prosperity."
"We probably won't use 100 percent of (the citizens' document), but we'll use a good portion of it," Kirk said. She noted that the citizens' group "left out the tourism part," and said, "We need a diverse economy, it can't be exclusive."
The emphasis of the citizens' draft is on modernizing and adding to the infrastructure, especially "new docking and (fish) processing facilities," and exploring ways to add to research in marine sciences and technologies.
Kirk noted that New Bedford, in doing a similar study, discovered and began developing a valuable new industrial trade sector of "short sea shipping" — moving goods through the port from and to southern New England and Mid-Atlantic ports.
In April, at a Seaport Advisory Council meeting at Cruiseport, Elisa announced the decision to give Gloucester $400,000 for the economic development study.
Kirk responded, saying the city needs to find ways to "turn the lights back on" while working between conflicting constraints — federal fishing regulators who have forced a dramatic reduction in the size of the fleet and the state government which controls much of the waterfront inside a Designated Port Area and has expressed the aim of keeping shore-side fishing infrastructure until the fishery recovers.
Steve Parkes, founder of Pigeon Cove Seafoods, served as spokesman for the Citizens of Gloucester Harbor group, which also includes Angela Sanfilippo of the Fishermen's Wives Association; Ann Molloy from Neptune's Harvest, the offshoot of Ocean Crest Seafood that makes fertilizer; fisherman, businessman and waterfront property owner Vito Giacalone; lobster fisherman Jay Gustaferro, and Nelson.
Other members are Jeanne Gallo, Damon Cummings, Ernest Morin, Ann Banks, Marcia Hart, Dave Lincoln, Henry Ferrini, Ken Riaf and Peter Anastas.
Richard Gaines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org