When the bidding period for I-4, C-2 turned up no bidders after three months on the market, at least one city councilor said the city has to do something about the regulatory fabric that surrounds the lot on 65 Rogers St.
The City Council, said Councilor and Planning and Development subcommittee Chairman Bruce Tobey, has three options when it comes to I-4, C-2; that's to do nothing, to modify the regulations around the property, or to pull the parcel completely from the Designated Port Area.
At a minimum, he said, the regulations need to be amended to allow marine-related industrial uses, rather than just marine-dependent industrial use.
"I've seen too much time pass with that site vacant," Tobey said Friday.
The question the lot raises and the city has to deal with, he said, is how much land on the harbor needs to be preserved for Marine Industrial uses.
At a Tuesday evening meeting, city solicitor Suzanne Egan said the council, should it choose to remove the I-4, C-2 parcel from the Designated Port Area, would have to go through two steps.
One, it could apply for a boundary review with the Coastal Zone management agency. That review, she said, would have to show that the I-4, C-2 doesn't meet the requirements to be in the DPA.
In that vein, the city would have to show that, among other things, the parcel hadn't been added to the DPA over the last five years, that a marine industry isn't operating on it.
The second option involves an appeal to the Legislature.
The DPA, Egan said, doesn't allow for a full fledged, non-water dependent laboratory on at the site. If removed from the DPA, the parcel would still be under state Chapter 91 and local Marine Industrial zoning.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the city will review the lot and the Designated Port Area during the 2012 harbor planning process.
This year, she said, the city will renew it's Harbor Plan, last done in 2009, as part of a state-mandated update.
The 2009 Harbor Plan resulted in a winning push to have the state allow 50 percent of properties within the DPA to be used for commercial, non-marine dependent use, a break from the previous limit of just 25 percent. City officials have pointed to the successful move by the Cape Ann Brewing Co. into the former Doyon's appliance store as an example of a property that benefited from the 2009 DPA change.
Now, the city is looking for more flexibility.
"The 2012 Harbor Plan will focus on two areas," Kirk said in an email Friday. "The sizing of the DPA ... and to what extent do we need to petition the state for additional allowable uses that support the types of uses required by the maritime economy segment ... we are trying to grow in the city."
Others, however, think the city has to be more creative in its vision for I-4, C-2 within the DPA as it stands.
"I-4, C-2 is the only property we have community control over," said Suzanne Altenburger, a local boat building entrepreneur.
Rather than passing the site off to the highest bidder, or pulling it out of the DPA, the city should undertake incubator-like work on the lot, she said. That site, she added, is the one waterfront parcel for which the city could assemble state and federal as well as private dollaes, and create something that would provide good, solid jobs for city residents.
Altenburger put forward a proposal for the lot during the city's idea development period two years ago. But to do something like what she's planning, Altenburger said, the city will need to reach out to state, federal, and private funding sources. It's also a site where the city should help create space for innovative marine technology and industry.
"Let's do it now," Altenburger said. "We know what needs doing."
However, Douglas Cook, who runs Landesign, a landscape design firm on Main Street, and a member of the city's Downtown Development Committee, said what really needs doing is fixing the wharf and other infrastructure.
"There definitely needs to be some issues resolved with that parcel in order to make the property more attractive to developers," Cook said.
Some of those issues, he said, don't involve the regulation. The city's best asset in the site, he said, is the wharf at the foot of the property. And right now, Cook added, it's in need of some repairs.
Once the city makes that wharf attractive and expands the dockage, it would resolve one of the property's larger issues, he said.
On top of the wharf, the city should pre-permit the property as a way to help developers navigate through the layers of regulation, Cook said. Developers see a litany of repairs, regulations, costs and board meetings when the look at the site, he said.
"The redevelopment of downtown, and redevelopment of interface between harbor and city has to happen," he said. "You can't let it rot."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.