Mayor Carolyn Kirk last night proposed drafting legislation to remove the East Gloucester waterfront from state control to help insure that property owners can expand into recreational boating.
The mayor noted that the state, at her urging, has agreed to soften rules and rethink the terms and administration of the Designated Port Area. Still, she advised that the city should be ready to file special legislation to liberate East Gloucester from the DPA.
"The city should explore freeing East Gloucester from the DPA so as to support the expansion of recreational boating," she said. "Gloucester should take steps now and control our own destiny over our harbor with regard to recreational boating."
Kirk made the proposal in a written report on the status of the policies anchored to the pending rewritten and broadened Harbor Plan and DPA Master Plan, and delivered her report to a special council meeting.
Kirk said she intended to pull the Harbor and DPA Plan off the shelf its been on for more than two years and fast-track it for state and local approval by Jan. 5.
The pacing and specifics of her proposal got a mixed reception.
Council President Bruce Tobey was joined by Councilors John "Gus" Foote and Sefatia Romeo in advising a slower pace and more deliberations, but Councilors Joe Ciolino and Steve Curcuru expressed frustration at how long it has taken to get economic action started on the harbor.
Tobey questioned the goal of sending the Harbor Plan to Boston for preliminary approval by Jan. 5 though he said he believed most people "are anxious to see the Harbor Plan go forward."
Foote, a retired fisherman, and Romeo, a representative of the Fishermen's Wives Association, both expressed concern that forces for change along the waterfront did not speak for the fishing industry, which has been regulated down in size.
"When the industry really needed (help)," Romeo said, "no one came forward."
The proverbial "they," said Foote, "have something lined up for Gloucester, they'll own Gloucester."
"It's time to get off the dime," said Ciolino. "We're not here to destroy the harbor, we're here to save the harbor."
After the mayor, answering a question by Curcuru, said the harbor plan has been in draft form for four years, Curcuru addressed Foote's complaint about "moving too quickly."
"No disrespect, Councilor Foote," Curcuru said, I don't think we're moving too fast."
Kirk said the Harbor Plan she intended to send to Boston included the he proposal by waterfront property owners which would allow them to construct recreational dockage so long as one quarter of the new space was reserved for commercial use.
When Foote said he worried about the future of commercial fishing, Kirk doubled back to the proposal of the property owners that would insure that one quarter of new dockage be kept for commercial interests.
She said she met last week with the property owners.
She achieved an important breakthrough last month when top officials in the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick agreed in writing with Kirk's argument that the administration of Gloucester and other harbors' DPAs needed modernization.
"We believe it is appropriate to formally consider whether the DPA program and regulations should be modified to allow greater flexibility ... of DPA uses," Deerin Babb-Brott, the assistant secretary of environmental affairs, wrote to the mayor on Oct. 23.
He went on to say that the state was also ready to consider possible liberalization of rules on a "case-by-case basis" and evaluate more programmatic changes to the DPA program using the city's "draft master harbor plan as a working model."
"One size doesn't necessarily fit all," Kirk said in opening remarks. "Some rules seem absurd. (The state) is recognizing this."
The idea of loosening regulation of the East Gloucester waterfront is hardly new, and was broached in the draft Harbor Plan completed in the administration of former Mayor John Bell.
The draft acknowledged the need to diversify the uses of the harbor but noted the purpose was to keep the port "in an ideal position to capitalize on the predicted recovery of the fish stocks."
Councilor Jason Grow has argued that with East Main Street no longer capable of handling fishing industry trucks, East Gloucester had functionally become a mixed zone that should no longer be reserved for marine industrial uses.
Much sentiment for liberating the east side of the harbor from the DPA emerged in last spring's "listening post" meetings organized by the mayor, but a group opposed to any loosening or shrinking of the DPA has also emerged in recent weeks.
Many members of the group were in the audience for the hearing.
Richard Gaines can be reached at email@example.com.