GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 10, 2012

Editorial: Beach 'ownership' shouldn't forestall hotel permit process


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It’s not surprising that the decades-long question over who actually owns Pavilion Beach has once again become a talking point amid Beauport Gloucester’s special-permit push for a 101-room, four-story hotel on the former Birdseye property along Commercial Street.

The downtown beach, after all, is a relatively unique city feature, and has been a central piece of the hotel talks almost from the start. And a potential loss of its public use — though never really on the drawing board for Beauport Gloucester, which has been poised all along to grant unquestioned access to it — has remained one of the red-herring fears hotel foes have touted in opposing the project.

But while City Councilor Bruce Tobey may be right in suggesting that a “quit-claim” to beach ownership by New Balance owner Jim Davis, Cruiseport’s Sheree DeLorenzo and their Beauport Gloucester limited liability corporation is a “reasonable” request, suggesting that any such deal be attached as a condition to any hotel development permits carries that concept too far.

That’s because, as long as public access to the beach is locked in, there seems no need to absolutely resolve a complex legal ownership issue that, if made part of the permit process, could drag this project out through courts for years. And that’s a prospect that neither the city nor Beauport can afford — or that even the Fort hotel opponents should want.

All of this stems from the fact that – while city residents have had unquestioned access to and use of the beach for decades, and while the city’s Department of Public Works has generally maintained it as well — no one has been able to find a definitive deed to the beach land. That, of course, brings in factors such as federal and state coastal zoning regulations, which essentially hold that a property owner has ownership rights to the beach as far down as the high water mark. Beauport Gloucester’s John Cunningham, meanwhile, claims that his company’s deed cites ownership to the low-water mark. That’s where the dispute begins, and that may be an issue best left for courts to decide if the city wants to get an ownership determination once and for all.

In the meantime, however, remember that Beauport officials were willing to extend the city and residents perpetual access right under an easement proposal that fell through in March. And, despite Cunningham’s claim that the company would be willing to talk about beach “ownership” only after it gets its hotel permits, there’s no reason for any access issues to change.

Look, settling the question as to who actually “owns” Pavilion Beach should come at some point. But as long as access is assured, there’s no reason the ownership question should snag a development project that is clearly in Gloucester’s overall best interest.

Let the ownership talks go forward – but don’t let them stall the permit process already in the works.