GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 8, 2012

Hotel flap remains over Pavilion

Company, city still split on beach 'ownership'

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Pavilion Beach has once again become a flashpoint at the center of Beauport Gloucester LLC’s request for a special permit to build a hotel on Commercial Street.

City Councilor Bruce Tobey said he’d like to make a quitclaim deed for the beach a condition of Beauport’s special permit. But, during a meeting last week of the council’s Planning and Development Committee, Beauport’s lawyer for the hotel project, John Cunningham, said the company would be willing to talk about the ownership of the beach — after it’s gotten the green light to build the hotel.

“We are open to an arrangement that the beach, to the extent we can put a hotel on it, becomes a public beach,” Cunningham said.

The city and Beauport – the company formed by New Balance owner Jim Davis with Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo to build what is now pegged at a 101-room, four-story hotel on the site of the former Birdseye plant in the Fort neighborhood — have disputed who owns Pavilion Beach since the company offered the city an easement for perpetual public use of the Commercial Street beach in the spring.

The city turned that easement down in March, saying it had prescriptive rights to the property because residents have used the beach and the city has maintained it for decades. But Cunningham maintains that Beauport’s deed for the Birdseye property on Commercial Street states that beach is part of the company’s property down to the low water mark. The city would have to test its contention in court to prove otherwise.

At the very least, Tobey said, the public right to use the beach is a matter of law. Residents have used the beach for years, he said, and that gives the city a case for prescriptive rights to the property.

“At the bare minimum a public right to use it exists, period,” said Tobey, who chairs the council’s Planning and Development subcommittee. “The only matter in dispute is who actually owns it.”

Tobey said he believes the city owns Pavilion, and he’d like to make a quitclaim deed part of Beauport’s Special Permit.

“Is it possible to build a special permit conditioned on delivery of the deed?” Tobey said, “ That strikes me as pretty reasonable, everything else being equal.”

While Beauport contends it owns the beach, Cunningham has said that public access to Pavilion is a design priority for the project. Beauport’s plans call for public walkway at the edge of their property that leads down to the beach. The walkway also includes ramps and a staircase that are built within the cement constructions of the Birdseye building.

Cunningham said that the city and Beauport will continue discussions about public access and ownership of the beach in the coming months.

But, Tobey’s committee has asked Beauport to talk with the residents about the proposed $25 million hotel project soon.

The committee requested Beauport hold a meeting with neighborhood residents to answer questions about the hotel project before his subcommittee meets on Oct. 17.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Cunningham said the company will hold one; they’re still working on a date, he said.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.