Officials and residents speaking for and against a proposed hotel overlay zone for Commercial Street engaged in more than three hours of intense, but civil debate Monday night.
Now, get ready for Round 2 — with at least one other round expected.
The public hearing before a joint meeting of the city's Planning Board and City Council Planning and Development subcommittee reconvenes at 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall's Kyrouz Auditorium.
At issue is a proposed rezoning for a portion of the historic Fort neighborhood put forward by the Beauport Gloucester limited liability corporation run by New Balance founder and owner Jim Davis and Sheree DeLorenzo of Cruiseport Gloucester.
Planning Board Chairman Richard Noonan said Tuesday he expects the board will extend the hearing again for the panel's own discussion at its next scheduled meeting in April.
"We need time to digest content and get into what we're really talking about," he said.
Thursday night's meeting, he said, will provide opportunity for rebuttal, but speakers will be limited, like Tuesday night, to five minutes of talking time.
Tuesday's hearing lasted for some 31/2 hours, with residents speaking on both for and against the zoning change. Those in support spoke until 8:30 p.m., after a presentation of the rezoning application by DeLorenzo and John Cunningham, Beauport Gloucester's local attorney. Those opposed spoke until 10:30 p.m.
Those arguing in favor of the change said it and the new hotel would stimulate the city's economy, bringing new jobs, tourism dollars and tax revenue. A hotel on that site, they added, would draw marine science companies to Gloucester as well, given that the rezoning would provide an overlay on top of the current Marine Industrial zoning, not replace it.
Those opposed, including a citizens group called Hold the Fort, said a hotel would conflict with the existing marine industries on Commercial Street.
The project, they claimed, is a zoning change that would benefit the landowner, not the public at large and would run against the city's harbor planning efforts. A hotel, they said, should be in the heart of the city's downtown, not on Commercial Street.
Beauport Gloucester LLC's proposal calls for an overlay district that would allow hotel and "accessory uses" at 33 and 45-61 Commercial Street, now zoned Marine Industrial. Marine Industrial zoning prohibits hotel or other residential uses.
The company, according to the proposal, asks for all buildings and structures permitted in the overlay district to have a minimum square footage of 40,000 square feet, with a maximum height of 75 feet.
Cunningham, the attorney for the project, said the height would allow the company to incorporate the Birdseye building's tower. While he said the hotel may not be that tall itself, the rezoning gives some leeway because the company hasn't finished its overall hotel plans.
"We need to leave a little room here because we haven't designed it yet," he said.
Cunningham on Monday night presented a preliminary sketch of the project, while noting the drawing is not a final version of what the projected four-story, 102-room hotel will look like.
The company, he added, will present plans if the project makes it to applying for a special permit.
Cunningham emphasized that the overlay zone also addresses any spot zoning concerns, based on what it will do for the city. It's not, he said, for the sole benefit of the applicant; DeLorenzo has said she expects the site to generate 100 new jobs in the city.
Daniel Hill, an attorney from Cambridge representing the Hold the Fort group, said his clients will put forward an alternative overlay district for the downtown area, one to run between Rogers and Main streets. He said the city needs the hotel space, but a hotel should be closer to Cruiseport Gloucester, not in the Marine Industrial space.
"Don't cut out the legs of marine industries for what we see as short-term profit," he said.
He added that this type of project should be done though a variance, not an overlay district.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk reiterated her support for the rezoning proposal Tuesday evening. She said the rezoning fits into the harbor economic development and harbor development plans of 2009 and 2011. The hotel, she said, is a specific building block in the harbor development plan.
"(These) are the building blocks to creating a diverse economy, expanding the tax base and bringing jobs," she said.
Kirk left the meeting before the proponents finished speaking and the opposition started. She said, however, she would review all the testimony on a recording, and left only to keep the hearing focused and not distracted by the views of the administration.
The first night of the hearing drew passionate speakers on both sides.
Sue Todd, who runs Pathways for Children, said she was spoke in support of the project because the jobs will help motivated lower income families stay in the community.
"Some of whom," she said "are desperate to enter the workforce and find jobs."
But Susanne London, a Gloucester resident who worked in the tourism industry, said the visitor climate in Gloucester wouldn't work for a full service hotel. She said tourists don't visit in the winter months, and when they do, they come to see an authentic seaport, not an upscale hotel.
"There is definitely a need for a full-service, year-round hotel in Gloucester, but it doesn't have to be built where it will be incompatible," she said.
Sonny Robinson, a local activist, said the Planning Board and City Council subcommittee essentially had a duty to vote down the proposed overlay zone down. The boards and city, she said, should focus on attracting Marine Industries along its harbor planning lines.
"Past planning and future planning require you to preserve and strengthen the Marine Industrial section of the city that we have," Robinson said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.