By Marjorie Nesin
---- — City councilors voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve each of the permits necessary for proponents to construct a 101-room hotel on Gloucester’s Commercial Street in the historic neighborhood known as the Fort.
The application submitted by proponents Sheree DeLorenzo and Jim Davis — grouped as Beauport Gloucester LLC. – for a $20 million hotel project drew support from eight councilors, with Bob Whynott absent.
Councilor Bruce Tobey, who supported the project, said that, over the months since the permit application was filed in August, city boards and committees have thoroughly vetted the project, preparing him for a vote in favor.
“Very little, I believe, stands unresolved,” Tobey said. “It has been well vetted, it has been well designed. It’s had its hiccups. They’ve been dealt with.”
Ciolino, supporting the hotel project on the grounds that he believes it will bring other businesses to Gloucester and add a tax base, also pointed to the $6 million Beauport Gloucester LLC. has agreed to kick in for infrastructure improvements in the area, $600,000 of which the duo has already contributed.
“It’ll be built, it will be cleaned up, the infrastructure will be fixed. I feel that this hotel will be a change agent...a change agent that’s really needed,” Ciolino said.
Council President Jackie Hardy agreed with Ciolino’s sentiment that the Beauport Gloucester Hotel project would pull the city forward.
“Let’s embrace the change the city of Gloucester is going through and move forward,” Hardy said.
Councilor Bob Whynott was absent from the meeting and public hearing that began in Kyrouz auditorium at 7 p.m. Tuesday with voting continued into Wednesday due to longstanding plans with his wife, according to Council President Hardy.
Opponents had urged councilors to vote down the proposal, saying a no vote would mean only that the council was insisting on a better design.
“If you vote no, it just means you have concerns about what’s going on,” Michael Faherty, a Gloucester-based lawyer representing opponent and Fort Square business Mortillaro’s Lobster Co. had said during a five-hour-plus Tuesday night hearing that set the stage for Wednesday night’s vote.
While none of the councilors took up Faherty on that offer, Tobey did pause to acknowledge his belief that hotel proponents had altered images depicting the proposed hotel and demonstrating how it would fit with the neighborhood. He pointed to one particular photo, in which the same bit of landscape and a small building appear twice in the photo.
Proponents have said the bit of landscaping was copied to fill space that is currently covered by the Birdseye building, but would be left open once the hotel is built. Hotel architect Sandy Smith, answering Tobey’s question Tuesday night, said no photos had been shopped, upsetting opponents who consider the photos “deceptive.”
Tobey called the photos “cooked,” but emphasized that Beauport Gloucester LLC would be held to the recorded dimensions anyway.
“That photo was Photoshop-ped and anyone who tells me otherwise is blowing smoke in my mirror,” Tobey said. “Yet in my value system, while sloppy at best, it is not fatal to this application, in my opinion, that the photo was cooked, and I do believe it was cooked ... But these are the things that matter, the scales and the measurements and the dimensions, all laid out as a matter of law.”
Councilor-at-Large Sefatia Romeo-Theken, who had abstained from voting last June when the council otherwise gave its unanimous approval to the hotel overlay zone that opened the door to the Beauport project on the former Birdseye site, emphasized that she personally opposes the hotel proposal, but as a representative of all of Gloucester, she felt her vote must follow the majority resident opinion.
“If it was me personally, I’d say I’d be with (the opponents), but I’m the council at large, and I have to represent what my community wants,” Romeo-Theken said. “What’s going to be there, whether you feel it’s shoved down your throats or not, let’s make it vibrant. If (DeLorenzo) fails, we all fail.”
Romeo-Theken also noted that she was one of four councilors who had been invited to the proponent’s wedding, but said the invitation is a product of living in a small, tight-knit community. Hardy, Tobey and Ciolino had all received invitations to DeLorenzo’s wedding. Tobey and Ciolino announced Tuesday night that they would not be attending the wedding. Hardy received permission from the State Ethics Commission to attend.
Romeo-Theken said she had also received an invitation to opponent James Tarantino’s daughter’s wedding.
“If you’re born and raised in Gloucester, ... we multi-exist.” Romeo Theken said. “We go to each other’s weddings. Today we are fighting, tomorrow we’re at peace.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.