The Gloucester City Council late last night approved a special hotel overlay zone covering a portion of Commercial Street on the beachfront facing the outer harbor.
But it did so with promises to the Commercial Street marine industrial businesses who strongly opposed the project that the developer, Beauport Gloucester LLC, will get nothing by right — especially Pavilion Beach itself.
Charlestown attorney Dan Hill, representing a mix of Fort businesses and residents, all but promised an immediate court fight over the legality of the nearly unanimous vote for a hotel overlay district on the former Birdseye property.
Hill told the Council that he believes the courts would reject the overlay treatment as spot zoning. But after city solicitor Suzanne Egan advised the council the overlay was proper, the councilors, one by one, gave their rationales for backing the plan, which allows the developer, headed by New Balance owner and founder Jim Davis and Cruiseport's Sheree DeLorenzo, to begin the architectural and engineering work on a hotel that fits the terms hammered out by the Planning Board, Planning Department of the administration of Mayor Carolyn Kirk, and the council's Planning and Development Committee.
The final 8-0 vote was taken about 11 p.m. after nearly four hours of alternating testimony from advocates and opponents sitting on opposite sides of City Hall's Kyrouz Auditorium and filling the seats on the floor.
Councilor Sefatia Romeo Theken abstained, she said, because the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association was, by its president, Angela Sanfilippo recorded against the overlay, and Romeo-Theken explained that she was a vice president so elected to not vote.
Planning and Development Committee Chairman Bruce Tobey issued the longest explanation of his decision to support the overlay district, casting his thoughts back to 1988, when he first joined the council and the many failed hotel development attempts.
He also implicitly rebutted many of the opponents' arguments that the hospitality jobs the project would create were inferior to those in fisheries.
"There is dignity in work — chambermaid or Harvard professor, there is dignity in work," Tobey argued.
He also warned that "we won't restore Gloucester to greatness on dreams."
Those who argued against the project outnumbered advocates at the separate microphones - pros to the left facing the council, opponents to the right. But Councilor Steven Leblanc said he counted emails he'd received as the citizen lobbying reached its peak as the fateful council meeting approached and found that proponents' emails outnumbered opponents by "four to one."
"That's a big number," he noted.
Opponents including many from outside the Fort, such as Molly Lutcavage, warned that high end hospitality would clash and eventually overwhelm and drive out humble, noisy, smelly marine industries which now array along the inside of Commercial Street with energy unrivaled elsewhere in the nation's first and still fully operational fishing port that has for the most part not hedged its bets with condos.
Lutcavage head the academic research center at Hodgkins Cove, Bay View that specializes in great migratory fishes under the joint auspices of the state division of marine fisheries and the University of Massachusetts.
But Councilor Paul McGeary referred to the row of fish processors — Intershell, Mortillaro's Lobster Co., Ocean Crest and its fertilizer subsidiary Neptune's Harvest — as the city's "ace in the hole" against gentrification because those businesses making it "a real working port, a real place with working businesses, the counter force" to the expected 100-room hotel. The hotel is tentatively seen as being on two floors above a conference center, with above ground level parking.
Left to be resolved is ownership of the beach and whether the development team, publicly led locally by DeLorenzo and backed by the business and financial resources that the reclusive Davis brings to the partnership.
Also clearly stated by Council President Jackie Hardy and others was that the developers get nothing by right from the overlay district, and must satisfy the Council with the architectural and design for the project before it is allowed.
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Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.