There are frankly a few questions still to be answered regarding how an idea barely discussed, if at all, at the city's Maritime Summit held at Cruiseport Gloucester last November ended up appearing as a recommendation in the initial draft of the summit report.
But the fact that the city has now essentially backed off a notation indicating that the city should push for new "flexibility" in the state's Designated Port Area development regulations now leaves the reader with the impression that everything about the DPA as it limits Gloucester waterfront development is just fine and dandy.
It's not. And the fact that the mayor's office and the city's Community Development Department may have overstepped their bounds in steering the summit report's recommendations should not, in the end, detract from the core issue.
Regardless of the program and findings of the Maritime Summit, the truth is, the city does need relief from the DPA's handcuffs. That's especially the case with perhaps Gloucester's most important harborside development site — the city-owned I-4, C-2 property off Rogers Street that sits idle after more than 40 years of vacancy — and, embarrassingly, two full years after the city acquired the property in June 2010.
By virtually all counts, a prime drawback to attracting a developer for I-4, C-2 this spring is the constraints of the DPA, which mandates that at least half of any property within its bounds must be tied to a "marine-dependent" use.
It's understandable that those who attended the city's two-day Maritime Summit — put together by the city and the Massachusetts Area Planning Council and funded through the economic side of the U.S. Department of Commerce as a token grant to supposedly make amends for NOAA's documented abuse of Gloucester's fishermen and waterfront business — were horrified when they saw the initial draft of the summit report talk of the need for easing up on the DPA.
Not only had that issue not been raised, some said, but the report was drafted by the city and planning council, without any input from the conference participants.
"That recommendation was not discussed by the committee," participant Valerie Nelson said. That's troubling, to say the least.
Harbor Planning Director Sarah Garcia, who was still the city's community development chief at the time and one of the summit's prime players, said the city and MAPC had added the DPA recommendation because the city wanted to make sure its regulations permit the industries discussed at the maritime summit. The report, Garcia said, should provide plans moving forward from the summit and into the next harbor planning process.
Yet, when a conference's attendees don't recognize a decisive part of their own event's report, something's wrong. That was the case here.
The truth is, the city's administration and the planning council should now issue their own recommendations on how the city should move forward. That should include seeking relief from the DPA especially when it comes to dealing with the specific I-4, C-2 property, as City Councilor and former Mayor Bruce Tobey initially raised last month. Then, that document — plus the Maritime Summit report — can both be starting points for the city's needed next step toward viable waterfront development.
By rigging the initial summit report, then backing off it in the revised version, city officials have cast a political cloud over the entire process, and that's unfortunate.
The focus should be on one thing: finding the best way to move the city's economy and waterfront development forward — especially on the derelict property that's epitomized the city's dilemma for years.