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December 16, 2008

'Overlay' zoning for Fort approved

Flouting localized, community opinion, the Planning Board has put its weight behind cracking the door of the gritty, industrial Fort to the possibility of a hotel with condos, restaurants and shops.

These uses which are now barred inside the Marine Industrial zone that takes in the entire 9-plus acre enclave and most of the rest of the waterfront would be allowed only by special permit vote of the City Council.

But first the council would need to put in place the land use and development tool — an overlay district — that the board selected Monday night to howls by opponents and one member of the seven member board.

"So much for democracy," said Ernest Morin, a member of the Fort Community Association, in an e-mailed press release. Expressing worries about gentrification, Fort residents and business interests organized this fall to contest Mayor Carolyn Kirk's proposal to remove zoning strictures to a hotel.

Developers for Marriott have expressed interest in the former Birds Eye property, which is now a cold storage facility, owned by an Illinois bank in foreclosure and offered as a hotel site.

Kirk praised the board's recommendation, approved on a 6-1 vote after four months of meetings and fierce opposition from the community.

The advisory vote sends the Fort's rezoning to the council. Hearings are not expected to begin until January.

Dissenting board member and architect Michael David Rubin described the overlay district proposal as "a mask" for the original rezoning approach from the mayor, which would have made the Birds Eye site part of the downtown Central Business district.

That idea was abandoned last month after planning director Gregg Cademartori wrote to the board that the business district didn't impose enough controls on the Fort neighborhood, a unique mix, with heavy, fish-based industries moating a tightly packed group of apartment buildings.

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