Gloucester’s City Council has approved an overlay district aimed at allowing the expansion of two hotels on the city’s Back Shore.
But the overlay district the councilors approved lacks any provision that would have allowed either of the hotels to add on up to 10 guest units “by right,” or without requiring a special permit.
That provision had been a sticking point and kept the overlay in council and Planning Board discussions since March. Several councilors said they supported the overlay, but wouldn’t vote for it if it allowed for any building by right.
Ultimately, the overlay was approved Tuesday night without any “by-right” provision, and on an 8-1 vote, with Councilor Joe Ciolino dissenting.
Councilors Jackie Hardy and Sefatia Romeo Theken said they supported the idea of the hotels expanding, but wouldn’t support them doing it by right.
For his part, Ciolino said he’d support a project when the hotels brought it before the council, but couldn’t support the long overlay process. He had objected to the overlay district since it was first proposed.
The council, he said, shouldn’t give up its right to review a project. The hotels would have to go for special permit and Planning Board Site Plan review.
“I’m not voting against the project,” Ciolino said, “but voting against the process.”
Attorney Michael Faherty had filed the request for an overlay zone in March on behalf of the Atlantis Oceanfront Inn and the Bass Rocks Ocean Inn. He dropped the by-right section hours before the City Council meeting after reaching a compromise with Attorney Ralph Pino, who represented several neighbors on Atlantic Road, including Jane Fonzo, who lives next to the Atlantis.
Faherty said he still believes a by-right provision should be in the overlay, but didn’t want that single issue to put the entire overlay zoning request in jeopardy.
“We firmly believe that it should be in there,” Faherty said, “but in any legislative process, and amendments to the zoning ordinance are legislative process, if you’re not certain or concerned that someone might use (the provision) as a reason to wash the baby out with the bath water, you have to compromise.”
Pino said his clients support the approved overlay as it stands. They weren’t opposed to the project, Pino said, but wanted to see what Bass Rocks and the Atlantis owners Tracy Muller and Jan Bordinaro planned to build or change about the hotels, and opposed allowing them to go forward without facing specific permit reviews.
“My clients weren’t against (the project) but they wanted to see what was going to be built,” Pino said.
The overlay district does allow the hotel owners to seek special permits without first having to obtain a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Faherty had argued that the hotels were non-conforming in the dimensional requirements laid out in the residential zoning on Atlantic road. They would be conforming, he said, if they had 12 or 13 units. But the Atlantis has 40 rooms, and the Bass Rocks has 53.
Faherty said the overlay will allow the hotels to modify their facilities and rooms to stay competitive in the modern tourist market. The rooms haven’t been updated much since the 1960s, he said, because the residential district wouldn’t permit it.
A majority of residents at the public hearing spoke in favor of the overlay district. Faherty also filed a petition with the City Clerk’s office that had some 570 signatures from Gloucester residents supporting the overlay, with the by-right provision.
Jane Fredrick, an Atlantis Ocean Inn employee said she’s worked there for 15 years. Her employment, she said, has been a luxury.
“It’s a luxury because it allowed me to stay on Cape Ann, buy a house on Cape Ann and raise a family on Cape Ann,” Fredrick said.
She added that, if the hotels expand, more people will be given the same opportunity.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.