Through two open sessions, members of Gloucester's Planning Board and the City Council's Planning and Development subcommittee heard some six hours of testimony from residents speaking for and against a proposed hotel overlay zone covering 33 to 61 Commercial St.
Members of those boards spent some two hours last week deliberating and posing questions to Beauport Gloucester LLC representatives regarding their proposal, which would open the door to a hotel with 80 rooms or more on the former Birdseye property along Pavilion Beach in the city's historic Fort.
Thursday night, those boards will meet again, in the fourth round of a public hearing that will, by then, have spanned exactly a month. And members may yet have some questions regarding the project, especially given that some aspects of the "draft" hotel proposal continue to evolve.
But there should no longer be many meaningful questions as to whether the city should indeed grant a hotel overlay zone in the first place. The board members should take their seats in City Hall's Kyrouz Auditorium on Thursday night with a commitment to make a decision that will either move this project forward or shut it down.
Given the community debate and the many issues at play — from passionate pleas from some to "hold the Fort," to concerns over the hotel's size, the boost it may bring in terms of city tax revenues, and a tangential dispute over who owns or should own that stretch of Pavilion Beach — it's easy to lose sight of the only real issue that's on the table.
That's not a specific hotel plan. And it's not a plan to change the city's Designated Port Area. It is simply a proposal to place an overlay zone that would open the door to hotel development.
It will not eliminate the existing marine industrial zone; it simply expands the uses of the property. In that vein, it's hard to believe it will have an negative effect on existing nearby businesses — or anything else.
As we've noted previously, we believe this overlay zoning plan deserves an emphatic "yes," as a significant step forward for the entire city.
Regardless of the board's and subcommittee's recommendations to the full Council, those decisions should be forthcoming Thursday night. It's time to either move this project to the next phase of talks — or move it off the city's drawing boards, once and for all.