To the editor:
Commercial Street and The Fort certainly seems a study in contrasts.
One of Gloucester's oldest neighborhoods, it features cutting-edge 21-st century water-dependent marine-industrial ventures, using their saltwater-access to bring in boats, seafood, draw in fresh saltwater, as Birdseye did so long ago with pipes across that rocky tidal-flat to reach the Outer Harbor waters.
Right next to these long-running ventures, we find old-growth medium-density residential properties, where many of these workers made their home, with a playground and outward-facing windows offering pretty views. All of this is on a narrow dead-end street, where turning a truck is a perpetual challenge, sidewalks unpredictable, and over 20,000 vehicles have been counted per week.
But there really is no contrast to study here. This city quarter's mixed-use has always depended on a carefully understood and tended-to neighborliness, something only longstanding mutually-beneficial relationships can produce. While probing outsiders would predictably take issue with trucks backing up Commercial Street, boats running their hydraulics in the wee hours, forklifts hauling stuff around tight corners, neighbors there understand this to be the vital commerce and jobs next door — just a few "commuting" steps from home.
Textbook wisdom would lecture us sternly on the odd mix of non-conforming uses, established across decades and centuries. But the Fort is one "real-world" example of how such organic old-growth relationships have proven to be more productive across a much longer history than any temporarily fashionable planning-theory.
Another well-known New England port-economy has confirmed this. The FMX-Associates/University of Rhode Island study of Newport, R.I., concluded in August 2010 that the "water-dependent" commercial properties in Newport yielded the most municipal revenues per acre, outclassing residential condominiums by 2.5 to 1, and even waterfront hotels by about 2 to 1.
Yet, megaphone-voices arrive with the ambition to re-mold our Port to match their personal insights — rather than seeking to understand, support and enhance our nearly 400 years of dynamic entrepreneurialism.
A radically anti-business atmosphere has been created due to years of unsteadiness in our zoning and planning, in which few know what their harbor property is actually worth now.
Bringing new industries to this working waterfront has therefore stalled out. Instead, while Cape Ann has not supported a single full-service year-round hotel in decades, a fourth hotel project is aggressively pushed into the Fort. This one explicitly violates our port's marine industrial zoning by insisting on the sole incompatible use listed in our zoning code.
More than $80 million of Commercial Street business per year is being put under threat to favor this one project, which I believe might, at best, yield $8 million per year and no more taxes than any other hotel.
Marine-industrial living-wage jobs that allow perhaps even owning a home here, are being pushed aside in favor of mostly non-career jobs. And a beach hotel is breezily advertised on a mostly rocky tidal flat that has been known to flood twice a day.
Beyond real-estate speculators, who are we trying to favor with this embarrassing spectacle?
We sure are not creating 21st-century jobs on this port.
And along with our working waterfront on Commercial Street, we are selling out an economic tool that can outperform any other by 2-to-1 to support our city's budget — if we were to actually make the most of it.
We've been failing to do so for many years now.