The neighbors of two longstanding Back Shore motor inns raise some legitimate questions regarding some of the "by right" additions that would be allowed under a hotel overlay zone pegged for Atlantic Road around the Bass Rocks Ocean Inn and the Atlantic Oceanfront.
Tonight's City Hall hearing on the proposal, hosted by the Planning Board and the City Council's Planning and Development subcommittee, will no doubt focus on what should or shouldn't require a special permit once a hotel overlay zone is in place.
But both panels and City Council itself should, as we've noted previously, go into these hearings with the idea of finding a way to make this overlay work. For the truth is, the businesses seeking this zone should indeed have every right to be able to expand as they see fit to address a need to house more incoming Gloucester visitors.
These are, after all, existing Gloucester businesses that deserve to be able to grow to complete with any new hotel developer, whether that proves to be the Beauport Gloucester LLC development in an overlay zone on Pavilion Beach, a Hampton Inn & Suites that, while facing legal challenges, is still on the table — complete with City Council-approved permits — for a site off Essex Avenue, or Sam Park's Holiday Inn Express project that remains delayed but also in play at Gloucester Crossing.
It's interesting to note (see related news story) that at least two of those who openly favor the Fort hotel overlay zone advanced by Beauport Gloucester LLC are, right now, opposed to the Back Shore zone. Yet Councilor-at-large Joe Ciolino and School Committee member Kathy Clancy make good points in citing that, by merely recommending the Back Shore overlay proposal, they would indeed set the stage for a number of potential projects that would not need further special permits from the council. Those include any increase in the number of rooms below 30 percent, and any height addition that would rise to less than 45 feet.
But while the Planning Board and, or City Council could make some changes to those figures by adding conditions, the truth is, attorney Michael Faherty — representing the inn applicants — makes a valid point when he notes that the new overlay zone wold really only recognize the uses that have been in place for decades, while allowing the businesses to grow.
Indeed, one of the mysteries in all of this is how Atlantic Road came to be zoned residential in the first place — a designation that has wrongly kept these businesses from expanding, even on their own properties, for years.
So while city officials and Back Shore residents sound out the issues at hand, all should keep in mind one of the bottom lines in this picture: this overlay zone stands to right what many may consider a longtime zoning wrong.
There may be some room for "by right" changes, but an overlay district for these properties deserves the Planning Board and Council's approval.