The proposal by Mayor Carolyn Kirk to hold a non-binding referendum on the potential removal of the state’s Designated Port Area regulations limiting Gloucester harbor development has merit, especially if carried out, as she suggests, with an eye toward including the results in the city’s next Harbor Plan,.
Indeed, as Kirk noted in her latest “Mayor’s Desk” column (the Times, Saturday, Oct., 6), any issue of that magnitude deserves maximum public input, and a non-binding referendum like Kirk has proposed is the best way of generating that input. In fact, if this proposal goes forward, there’s no reason the city can’t also include a referendum on the proposed construction of a new West Parish School building that can’t handle that school’s current population, let alone open the door to the kind of consolidation the city needs — or a well-crafted “menu” ballot question with choices for the re-use of the former Fuller School, including its potential re-use as a school, a bit of public input that neither the mayor nor school officials want to hear.
But it’s also important to note that, first, any such Designated Port Area — or DPA — question would be non-binding. And secondly, the state, whose Seaport Advisory Council put the DPA in place, could easily just say “thanks for the sentiment, but ...” and tell the city, which continues to reel in Seaport grant funding, to take a flying leap.
In that vein, it’s important, as City Councilor and former mayor Bruce Tobey noted, that the City Council also separately pursue a measure that would either exempt the city-owned I-4, C-2 site from the state mandates — which still require 50 percent of any DPA property be used for “marine-dependent” development — or at least ease the percentage or perhaps change its wording to make the required usage “water-related,” a big difference when it comes to pursuing recreational boating, for example, as an I-4, C-2 option.