The awarding of a $400,000 federal Environmental Protection grant to the city of Gloucester to carry out an inventory and analysis of public and private parcels along the city’s waterfront certainly looms as a promising step for advancing needed harbor development.
And the timing could not be better if waterfront and fishing industry transition funds hold up through the U.S. Senate Appropriations budget requirements for NOAA in the use of seafood tariff money.
But in reeling in the EPA prize, city officials need to once again take a fresh look at what remains the greatest single obstacle to harbor development and flexibility: the state’s Designated Port Area mandates that, however, well-intended at one time, continue to keep undue and outdated restrictions on property owners – and in fact, the city itself as owner of the still-vacant I-4, C-2 site off Rogers Street.
The $400,000 grant, as outlined by city Community Development Director Tom Daniel, will give waterfront property owners the chance to learn about environmental conditions and other factors that can help them plan potential “investment decisions” for improving their properties.
But city officials have to realize that any such decisions — whether shopping their properties for sale, looking toward new uses, or considering expansion through either new or existing uses – requires flexibility. And the DPA, clamped on Gloucester’s harborfront to protect the fishing industry and to ensure it would have the waterfront access it needs — allows too little flexibility for new development.
The city may not need to push the state to pull out the DPA altogether. And many waterfront businesses may not want that anyway. But merely shifting the DPA’s wording to note that 50 percent of any included property must be set aside for “water-related” — not “water-dependent” — use, or dropping the percentage to perhaps 25 or 30 percent could give property owners a host of new options for property use.
Property owners should work with the city to best utilize these EPA funds. But they and city officials should all realize that, by keeping the development-strangling DPA in place, they are severely limiting the kind of investment and planning these new federal funds are designed to attract.
Don’t let these EPA dollars go go waste. Explore pulling or easing the DPA, then use this money to consider a brave new world of options.