To the editor:
At a recent public hearing, on the latest proposal to build a hotel on the Birdseye site, three related topics seemed to jump out from the notion of changing zoning via an "overlay district."
First, transportation: If Gloucester Harbor is a tourist attraction, one requiring overnight lodging right there, how shall tourists get there?
If by water, Cruiseport and moorings. If by land (the vast majority) through our already overcrowded 17th-century street pattern, followed by a search for scarce parking.
A proposal had been made in 2004 at a Planning Board meeting for an overlay district to deal with Gloucester's traffic, parking and local transit problems, comprehensively. This would have been a correct use of an overlay district, linking multiple zoning areas with a common concern, and not overriding any present zoning use.
Second, tourism is 4 1/2-month economy, a welcome supplement to our core 12-month economy, or, is the other way around?
Which supports working residents of Gloucester more consistently and sustainably, waiting on tables and making beds for the summer, or all the skilled trades, crafts, small businesses and their owners and employees who work on or near the harbor, year-round?
Tourism in Gloucester does have several draws, but for most tourists the working harbor and commercial fishermen are the top, unique attraction. It makes sense to use care in allowing any new, unrelated development that would negatively affect our true harbor activities.
Finally, regarding taxes — as in "raising the tax base" — where, in all U.S. history, has increasing a community's tax base led to lower property taxes for mid-income working homeowners in that community?
Have we forgotten, in the midst of today's severe unemployment, that 60 percent to 80 percent of new job creation service from small businesses, such as those on and around our harbor?
A major hotel will likely offer mostly low-paid jobs, with the plum of management training for very few employees. Add that to the hindering of marine-related business across Commercial Street (noise, smells, traffic are not hotel-friendly), and the probable outcome is more deterioration of harbor business and job health, ironically destroying not only more community income, but our unique tourist attraction, itself, in the process.
There are now three possible hotel sites under consideration for development in Gloucester — off Essex Avenue, at Gloucester Crossing, and, again, down the Fort.
What has held back our going forward on one or more of them? Hmm ... have we noticed the economy? Where are the numbers that show a Fort or Birdseye hotel would even succeed?
Let's not forget the lack of infrastructure, water and sewage treatment, and being situated in three flood zones, added to the already tight traffic flows there, added to the conflicts with neighbors.
Gloucester has a wide range of residents of varied income, culture, skills and interests; our land, buildings and waterfront are equally varied, in form and history. I find this, in itself, a reason to live here, not just to visit.
Still, the blue-collar, entrepreneurial core of Gloucester's character is what defines us. Working through almost 400 years of New England weather, occasional warfare, and economic stress has made Gloucester's appearance a bit less than neat and tidy.
We're not as fashionable as, say, Harvard Square cafe society might prefer. I suggest that the professional planning template popular in those circles is not useful to the sustainable economy, history and character of Gloucester.
MICHAEL DAVID RUBIN
Warner Street, Gloucester