GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 15, 2012

Back Shore overlay bid scaled back

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The attorney representing two hotels on Gloucester’s Back Shore has agreed to reduce the number of guest units the owners would be able to add as a matter of right in his proposal for a hotel overlay district.

Under the revised proposal for an Atlantic Road hotel overlay district, the Atlantis Motor Inn and the Bass Rocks Ocean Inn would only be allowed a 10-guest unit expansion before they would have to seek a City Council Special Permit.

That’s different from the 30 percent matter-of-right expansion Attorney Michael Faherty proposed in his initial submission. The 30 percent expansion provision would have allowed Bass Rocks to grow from 54 to 70 rooms, while the Atlantis, which now has 40 rooms, could have gone to 53.

The 10-unit proposal is one of several changes that Faherty made to his overlay proposal since it left the Planning Board’s review to seek City Council approval.

“We’ve made concessions,” he said.

The 10 units, he said, would allow both Bass Rocks and Atlantis to add a third floor, said Faherty, and would give owners more certainty for pursuing such projects in their efforts to remain competitive in the growing local tourism market.

“We’re looking for a degree of certainty with respect to the project, so that if the applicant, the owner puts out a fair amount of money in design and all the soft costs, that they know there’s an envelope that they can build as of right,” Faherty said.

The overlay proposes a minimum lot are of 40,000 square feet, 750 square feet of lot per guest unit, 200 square feet of open space per guest unit. A 30 foot minimum front yard, 20 foot minimum side yards, and 30 foot minimum rear yard. The hotels can only reach 30 feet in height.

The owners can decided to put in a contiguous 10,000 square feet of open space in the front of the property rather than the 200 square feet per guest unit.

Any upper additions in the overlay district on a hotel that abuts a residence need a 55 foot setback. Atlantis is the only hotel with a residential abutter. Jane Fonzo lives next to Atlantis and her attorney, Ralph Pino, has argued against the overlay.

That upper portion set back from the residence also can’t have windows facing the residence, save ones installed for ventilation purposes only.

The overlay also states that any alteration, expansion, replacement of an existing hotel or construction of a new one can’t merge both lots without a special permit.

He proposed the overlay district in March. Faherty said the overlay allows the hotels to expand, modernize, and compete. They’re currently in a residential district that effectively prohibits any expansion or alteration without either seeking a variance or a special permit.

“There’s a threshold under which you should be able to do things without going through complicated processes,” Faherty said.

Faherty’s proposal goes before the City Council Planning and Development subcommittee on Wednesday, with a final session before a council public hearing on the overlay slated for Oct. 23.

The Atlantic Road overlay district isn’t like anything the council has seen before, said City Councilor Bruce Tobey. The overlay’s by-right requests, which would let the property owners build up to 10 units without any city review, aren’t like anything in the city’s zoning laws. He added that he’d like Faherty and Ralph Pino, the attorney representing Jane Fonzo who lives next to the Atlantis Ocean Inn, to come to some kind of a compromise.

“There’s still no guarantee it’s going to work as a matter of law or matter of policy,” Tobey said.

Tobey had said at a meeting earlier this month that he found good basis in the law for an overlay district like the one Faherty is proposing. He also said he was in support of giving the two motels some degree of certainty in an “as of right” provision to remain vigorous and competitive.

But the proposed ordinance, Pino said at a Planning and Development hearing on Oct. 3, is effectively permitting a project that neither the council or the neighbors have seen. The overlay, he said, was proposed to avoid the permitting process.

If the owners of both Bass Rocks and Atlantis came before the neighbors and the council with their proposals, Pino said he believed the neighbors would support it, so long as it was reasonable, attractive and fits into the area.

Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.