, Gloucester, MA

October 16, 2012

Editorial: Set emotions aside for tonight's overdue hotel talks:

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — A meeting that frankly should have been held weeks ago is scheduled for tonight (See news story, Page 1).

But it will be largely up to the participants as to whether it proves to have any value — and we can only hope it will finally give both sides in the Beauport Gloucester LLC hotel debate the chance to sort out the main issues still involved, and how they might be addressed.

The session — billed as a “neighborhood meeting” – is being hosted by officials with Beauport Gloucester LLC, the company launched last year by New Balance owner Jim Davis and Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo to first seek the hotel overlay district approved by the City Council last spring, and then develop what’s emerging as a 101-room on the former Birdseye property. In fact, it’s a meeting essentially ordered two weeks ago by former mayor Bruce Tobey and the council Planning and Development subcommittee he heads – and it’s unfortunate such an outreach meeting had not come before now.

That said, the city hasn’t exactly opened the door to neighborhood and other resident input on the actual permits either. Earlier this month, Harbor Planning chief Sarah Garcia pulled out a rarely enforced guideline to put the clamps on a Ward 2 meeting that had been legitimately sought by Ward 2 Councilor Melissa Cox to hear ward residents’ questions and concerns about the project, saying that councilors essentially could not address issues currently in the permitting stage at a ward or other, less formal city-sponsored meeting.

And remember that, in July, City Solicitor Suzanne Egan had signed off on an underhanded plan that would have allowed the council to open a second hearing on the handling of the overlay approval called for by a legitimate citizens’ petition, and then close it before anyone had a chance to speak. Thankfully, cooler and wiser council heads prevailed.

Tonight, Beauport officials should do precisely that – and without standing defensive against any and all neighbors’ concerns.

In that vein, those who remain opposed to this project must do their part to stay on topic as well. That means no suggestions like the downright offensive and never documented allegation in the initial Hold the Fort Inc. lawsuit that unnamed councilors had taken “gifts” that, according to filing attorney Daniel Hill, may have clouded their judgment — an allegation that still cries out for answers from Hill, whose initial suit was filed on behalf of a supposed nonprofit that never registered with the state.

And there should be no further cries of the hotel being akin to a “hostile takeover” of a neighborhood “by the 1-percenters” — both shameful allegations included in an email to rally outsiders against the project during the spring overlay debate.

Yes, this is an emotional issue – especially for residents who see this project as bringing significant change to the historic Fort neighborhood. But it’s important that all sides see tonight as a meeting that should not be driven by emotion, but by exchanges of facts, concerns and questions.

How do Beauport officials propose resolving the ownership dispute over Pavilion Beach? How will the specific utility infrastructure improvements already in the works affect the neighborhood beyond the hotel, and around Fort Square?

What street improvements are in the works – and what types of street work to neighbors and nearby businesses expect and need? What assurances are there that the hotel developers will respect and not seek any restrictions on existing businesses that begin their days well before dawn?

Those and other questions can and should be raised tonight, when residents get their long-awaited chance to sit down with developers at the forefront of one of Gloucester’s most significant developments in decades. But the meeting will only prove worthwhile if both sides treat the other with the level of respect each deserves.

Let’s hope that, after months of charged rhetoric, that finally proves to be the case.