Beauport Gloucester LLC's proposal for a hotel overlay district at 47 Commercial St. received unanimous approval from the council's Planning and Development Subcommittee Wednesday night.
As its proposal heads to a full City Council public hearing next Tuesday, however, project opponents say the reviews have left some important questions unanswered.
While the City Council subcommittee approved the overlay district unanimously Wednesday evening, it also made several changes to the company's proposal, committee chairman and at-large councilor Bruce Tobey said.
The committee removed 33 Commercial St. and much of Pavilion Beach from the overlay, while adding language that prohibits condominium and extended stay units. The company says they don't have a problem with the changes.
"We built in several places clarifying and amending what a hotel is, and what a hotel isn't," said Tobey.
The company's attorney, John Cunningham, submitted the proposal in January. Since then, both the subcommittee and the Planning board have unanimously supported the overlay district. It is now headed to the City Council for a Tuesday night hearing. The council holds the final review of the overlay proposal.
In a letter to sent to the subcommittee during the review process, Sunny Robinson, a local activist, said she and other citizens had questions that were left unanswered.
She asked the committee to consider the effect of the overlay on Pavilion Beach, nail down the overlay boundaries, quantify public benefit, consider neighborhood impact and environmental hazards.
"These are but a sample of the questions we expect our elected representatives to get answered as part of their due diligence before legislating a fragmentary modification of our local zoning ordinance," Robinson indicated.
The Planning and Development panel, however, dealt with the boundary issue before making the recommendation.
Beauport Gloucester's overlay proposal covers 47-61 Commercial St. — the former Birdseye site — after Cunningham took 33 Commercial St. out from overlay coverage entirely at the committee's request. The Planning Board recommended leaving just the parking lot of 33 Commercial in the overlay zone, but Tobey had said Beauport removed the parcel to make it clear that Mac Bell, the local developer who owns 33 Commercial, has nothing to do with Beauport's project.
The board also cut back the amount of Pavilion Beach the overlay covers as well. Tobey said the proposal now covers just 35 feet of the beach. The city, he said, still believes it has a claim of ownership on the beach and will take that into consideration during the special permitting process, should Beauport's proposal get that far.
After the subcommittee's review, the overlay now also prohibits condos, time-shares, and stays for more than 90 days — and expressly prohibits a casino on site.
Tobey said critics of the project have said the hotel may result in those uses.
"We're not sure (those) would be the case, but we closed the door on it anyway."
Beauport, said Cunningham, doesn't have an issue with any of the new restraints.
"It's entirely workable, we had said earlier in the hearing process that we had no intention of condominium-timeshare forms of ownership," he said.
The district adds hotel use, by council special permit, on top of the area's Marine Industrial Zoning designation which remains in place and essentially covers the entire Fort neighborhood.
Beauport Gloucester LLC, headed by New Balance owner Jim Davis and Cruiseport's Sheree DeLorenzo, bought the Birdseye building for $6.5 million last July.
If it now gains full City Council approval, the overlay district will allow a hotel of not fewer than 80 rooms with at least some of the following: parking facilities, a restaurant, meeting or event and conference center, retail sales and services, pool, fitness center and other amenities commonly found in hotels.
Tobey said the committee also added a 10-foot setback requirement from any marine Industrial property, including the storage shed at 65 Commercial St. owned by Mortillaro Lobster Co. The overlay also requires a minimum 10 foot front yard setback.
Aside from parameters and defining what kind of hotel the district allows, there's nothing else that Planning and Development needed to consider, Tobey said. An economic impact or traffic study at this time is a matter of speculation and are in the perview of the special permit process.
"It would be the challenges of the body that would permit the hotel, in this case the City Council, to make sure it protects (the Marine Industrial businesses)," Tobey said.
Others, however, aren't sure that's the case.
If the council allows the overlay, said Damon Cummings, local waterfront advocate, city officials would have a tough time denying the applicant. If the city shoots down the overlay and it gets taken to court, he said, the applicant would have a tough time overturning that decision. But if the overlay is allowed and the hotel isn't, the proponents would likely win the lawsuit, he speculated.
"It will go to court," Cummings predicted, "and the proponents are likely to win."
Tobey said that, if the city makes a reasonable, justified decision, it will be upheld in court. Litigation is possible, he added, but overturning the council's decision isn't likely.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.