The city will undertake a harbor plan review this year.
Because we are a community with a Designated Port Area, we need to periodically go through a formal harbor planning process, and then submit our municipal harbor plan to the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs for approval.
The first harbor plan for the city was approved by the commonwealth in 1999. The plan focused primarily on infrastructure improvements for the port, and one of the big accomplishments as result of the plan was the construction of the Jodrey State Fish Pier.
The 1999 plan was due for review after five years, and in 2004 the then mayor appointed a Harbor Plan Implementation Committee.
By 2006, there was a draft plan which basically supported the goals of the original 1999 plan.
However, about the same time, a group of waterfront property owners met over a period of several months, and as referenced in today's plan document, the property owners "expressed unanimous concerns about the plan as proposed and urged its amendment."
They further expressed the belief that a healthy harbor economy required significant expansion of the allowable uses in the DPA.
The only problem is that an expansion of allowable uses in the DPA requires that the DPA be changed. There was no community consensus on how to move forward, and the 2006 harbor plan draft became paralyzed.
Realizing the harbor plan was stalled, when I took office in 2008, we initiated a series of listening posts. I appointed a panel of "listeners," and we hosted community meetings throughout the neighborhoods of Gloucester.
More than 600 people came to these sessions, and many expressed their hopes and desires for Gloucester Harbor.
We constructed a set of community values based on what we heard, and we pulled together the consensus for moving forward. We made the policy decision that we would only submit a harbor plan that the state could approve, and knowing that the work of seeking changes to the DPA itself was unfinished, we established a shortened time period of two years for its review rather than the customary five years.
What now became the 2009 Harbor Plan was submitted to the state and approved in December 2009. There were no less than 26 public meetings regarding the plan, and many stakeholders endorsed the plan.
The 2009 plan doubles the amount of commercial supporting use allowed within the DPA, and provides an escape hatch for properties that cannot conform such as the Doyon's property that is now home to the Cape Ann Brewing Co.
Today, we find ourselves in very much the same policy place as we were in 2006. The ocean economy is changing, and Gloucester is being responsive to it with its pursuit of the maritime economy.
We need an expanded list of allowable uses within the DPA. The current list is too narrow. The harbor planning process is the way in which we go about vetting the changes we want to see in the harbor plan and the DPA.
My administration will not put limits on what can come forward as a result of the process. The directive will be to produce the list of desired allowable uses, and to determine whether or not the size of the DPA itself is suitable for the market that it is meant to serve.
In all likelihood, the changes in allowable uses will require state legislative approval. For the state legislature to get behind a change in the DPA for Gloucester, a coalition of support must be built for the changes.
The harbor planning process is the way to build the support, and vet the changes. It also needs to be inclusive of all property owners in the DPA.
I sometimes say we don't do economic development so much as we do change management.
We need to manage the changes regarding the DPA and Gloucester Harbor in a way that protects what we value about the working waterfront but also stimulates property investment, expansion of the tax base, and job creation.
It is no easy task.
Carolyn Kirk is mayor of the city of Gloucester.