, Gloucester, MA

March 10, 2013

Editorial: A 'yes' vote for Fort hotel is a vote for city's future

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It’s been eight months since Gloucester’s City Council, on a near-unanimous vote, rightfully approved creation of a hotel overlay zone that added flexibility to the Fort neighborhood’s longstanding marine industrial zone, and opened the door for one of the truly landmark development projects in Gloucester’s history.

Tuesday night, that same council will be asked to approve a series of special permits needed to see that project through — a 101-room, four-story waterfront hotel that will pump an estimated 150 jobs, new tax revenue and a new spirit to the city’s struggling waterfront. And the council’s vote should essentially be the same.

A “yes” vote on the Beauport Gloucester LLC’s hotel permits Tuesday night, expected after a 7 p.m. public hearing in City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium, will not simply provide the decisive green lights for going ahead with this project. It will stand as a commitment to welcoming investment in our city, and in that sense, will truly stand as an investment in Gloucester’s future.

A lot of things have happened since last June’s council vote to approve the hotel overlay zone. We have, of course, continued to see opponents of the project — mostly Fort residents and a few businesses — raised a number of red flags for why the hotel should not be built.

Yet, at each and every turn, Beauport Gloucester — headed by Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo and New Balance owner Jim Davis, a part-time local resident who has a home in Bay View — has responded by tweaking its plans, and by stepping up to address issues they’re not required to tackle. That’s especially included boosting what started as a $600,000 commitment toward a roughly $7 million project to improve water and sewer infrastructure throughout the Fort neighborhood to covering some $2 million of that project. And even last week, it included installing temporary scaffolding on the roof of the current, eyesore Birdseye building to show, not just tell, residents that the height of the planned hotel will actually be lower than the white tower that’s graced the old industrial building for decades.

Are there still some questions about the project? Of course.

The Fort Community Alliance, a largely neighborhood group that has adamantly opposed and obstructed this project at every turn, hired Paul Godfrey, a UMass marine biology professor emeritus who, to no one’s surprise, cited all sorts of problems, stemming in part from his belief that Pavilion is a “barrier” beach and that the city should instead allow restoration of its “dunes.” Yet, Lester B. Smith, Jr., Beauport Gloucester LLC’s engineer and environmental consultant for the project, counters that the project, 200 feet from any eelgrass beds, would have no impact on that environmental component, that the hotel building would protect Commercial Street from stray sand and positively impact the neighborhood, and that the hotel seawall would act as a barrier just like the one that exists now — and has for decades — as part of the old Birdseye building.

Are these issues to consider? Yes — and by all counts, they have been considered and addressed by Beauport Gloucester and by city officials alike. That’s why the council’s Planning and Development Committee — former mayor and current at-large councilor Bruce Tobey, Council President Jackie Hardy, and Ward 5 representative Greg Verga — last week recommended full council approval for a lowlands permit, a beach deed, a special height variance, a parking permit, generator noise allowances, traffic plans and lighting permits.

The remaining issue to be considered is whether this project is indeed best or the city, its businesses and its residents. And the answer is simple: Yes.

This hotel will a attract new tourism dollars, it will answer the needs of local businesses that host visiting executives, clients and employees, it will bring in new tax revenues, it can attract additional investment, and it will deliver badly needed new jobs for a city and Cape Ann area that economically struggling and faces a fishing crisis destined to put even more local people on the unemployment and foreclosure lines in the weeks, months and years to come.

It is a project the city needs. It is one that residents and business deserve to see come to fruition. And it is a project whose permits deserve a series of emphatic “yes” votes from the Gloucester City Council Tueday night.