, Gloucester, MA

May 3, 2013

Editorial: DEP beach funding shouldn't block hotel advancement

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The finding by the state Department of Environmental Protection that a portion of the proposed Beauport Gloucester Hotel property indeed falls under the state’s Chapter 91 designation, essentially protecting the public’s access to the water, may be seen by some diehard foes of the project as a new reason for blocking the entire project.

Yet even by the DEP’s own findings, it should be nothing of the kind. Indeed, the need for Beauport Gloucester LLC officials to now include “facilities of public accommodation” in its overall design plan should really just play off the public access that hotel developers and proponents had really promised from the start. And in that vein, the DEP finding should, as Marjorie Nesin’s Page 1 Thursday story noted, be embraced by both sides.

In its finding, the DEP confirmed that a “small part of the site” slated for construction falls within a beach area protected by a state Chapter 91 designation. As DEP spokesman Ed Coletta noted, that chapter of Massachusetts General Laws ensures that the public has access to the wetland beach area, and some types of facilities.

Those could include a small restaurant, rest rooms, changing rooms or other such facilities — and those types of facilities were not included in the initial Beauport Gloucester hotel plans, which do call for twin restaurants/functions halls and other amenities inside the planned four-story, 101-room hotel. But Lester B. Smith Jr., Beauport Gloucester LLC’s engineer and environmental consultant says he believes the DEP’s demand “is consistent with what we’re planning.”

And while the Beauport group, headed by New Balance owner Jim Davis and Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo, now has to file an application outlining their plans for the Chapter 91 wetlands work, there’s no reason to think the DEP’s finding should or needs to bring serious revisions for the project, which had full approval of the city’s permitting boards, including the City Council.

For all the benefits this project will clearly bring to Gloucester – jobs, boosts for the visitor economy, and other spinoff economic gains — there remains a core of resisters still seeking to put up hurdles to a project that would breathe new life into the long-derelict former Birdseye site, a glaring eyesore. And there may well prove questions regarding the viability of a Pavilion Beach seawall, as the DEP’s Coletta hinted.

Yes, the Chapter 91 recognition may well cause a bit of a delay in the Beauport project’s going forward. If the DEP approves the LLC’s plans and application, the state would create a draft license — yet the state would then reach out for public comment before ultimately deciding to grant the developers the license to go forward.

All of that is understandable. It is also, frankly, frustrating. That’s because Gloucester’s need for this project zooms even more into focus with the word of every new setback for the fishing industry — and every time new state unemployment statistics show Gloucester with a jobless rate running some 40 percent above the state norm, with a diminishing, documented labor force that suggests a growing number of jobless residents are simply seeing their benefits expire and are falling off the unemployment rolls.

But firming up public access to the beach, as hotel developers have already promised, and mandating some type of public facilities should only improve Pavilion Beach more than it has ever been upgraded before.

That should indeed be good news for city residents and Beauport Gloucester officials alike.