The city's Planning Board has recommended the City Council approve Beauport Gloucester LLC's proposed Hotel Overlay Zoning district along parts of Commercial Street — but with a few key changes.
Board members unanimously recommended the proposal with the revisions Thursday night. As amended, the zone would cover the former Birdseye site owned by Beauport Gloucester LLC, and just the parking lot of 33 Commercial St. The new plan removes the Chamber of Commerce building at 33 Commercial St., owned by local developer Mac Bell, from the overlay zone.
The board's recommendation also includes several dimensional changes to the district.
The zoning proposal is in the hands of the Council's Planning and Development subcommittee and will head to a City Council public hearing sometime in May.
Beauport Gloucester's attorney, John Cunningham, had said the company included 33 Commercial St. i in the overlay for overflow parking. Cadematori said that, if Beauport Gloucester, headed by New Balance owner Jim Davis and Cruiseport's Sheree DeLorenzo, were to use the site for overflow parking, it would have to be zoned similarly.
Planning Board Chairman Richard Noonan said the board reduced the role of 33 Commercial St. in the overlay because of residents' concerns that Bell could conceivably have built a second hotel on the site.
"It (the vote) was in the best interest for the entire city of Gloucester, (I'm) really happy about it," DeLorenzo said Friday.
Asked specifically Friday whether he wanted to have his building taken out of the overlay zone, or whether he opposes the change, Bell declined comment on any issues relating to the overlay district or Beauport Gloucester's plans for a hotel. The overlay zone opens the door to the limited liability company building a hotel of 80 or more rooms.
Meanwhile, members of the "Hold the Fort, Save Gloucester" citizens group posted Friday on its Facebook Page that they are now seeking donations for legal fees to step up their opposition of the project.
"As expected, the Planning Board passed the rezoning proposal," the post reads. "Fund-raising for our legal fees now goes into full action as it is looking more and more like we will have a lawsuit on our hands." There is no indication as to what would be targeted by any such suit.
Beyond the proposed hotel, the overlay zone sought by Beauport on top of the current Marine Industrial zoning designation would allow a parking facility, restaurant, conference rooms, retail services, and other amenities commonly found in hotels.
Beauport also raised the minimum square footage from 40,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet; the new version has also dropped the height allowance from 75 to 40 feet — except for the landmark, 75-foot Birdseye tower, which, according to an early sketch of the project, the developers are hoping to retain or restore.
It also increased setbacks and set a density of 1,250 square feet per two guest units. Cunningham said the company will pursue a height variance at the City Council level.
DeLorenzo has said the changes represent the limited liability company's way of working with the city and starting the process of building a hotel of which the city can be proud.
But, those issues aren't the substantive ones within the overlay zone, said Sunny Robinson of Citizens for Gloucester Harbor.
In zoning, she said, the city shouldn't create conflicting zones, such as putting a hotel on a street with several marine industrial businesses. She said the board should have looked at issues of "appropriateness" and conflicting use before even considering matters such as height and setbacks.
While the overlay, she added, doesn't remove marine industrial use from the Birdseye site, board members know what the applicant intends to do there.
"It's disingenuous," she said, "because we know there's no intention for marine industrial use. The only intention is for hotel and accessory uses."
Noonan said the board has the discretion to determine appropriate use. He said board members could see a commercial use, such as a hotel working in the Fort's Marine Industrial district, which already includes several non-conforming uses, including all of the Fort's residences. The city set up the Marine Industrial zone there in 1991.
"From a zoning perspective, you can contemplate commercial use like a hotel in a district that has mixed commercial and residential uses, on the beach, on the water," Noonan said.
Questions of whether the actual hotel project will fit in the neighborhood and what economic impact it will have are necessary questions, but the Planning Board will ask them if it reviews a full hotel plan during the special permitting process.
Board member Joe Orlando said that he voted to recommend the overlay because he doesn't see the Birdseye parcel, on a beach with no deepwater access, as part of the city's working waterfornt.
"Since the site is not on the harbor and the product must be trucked to and from the factory," Orlando said in a written statement, "it is illogical to argue that the location is either unique or particularly suited to marine industrial use."
The community, he said, should encourage business development, both marine and non-marine.
Councilor and Planning and Development subcommittee vice chairman Greg Verga said that because the council knows Beauport's next step, it needs to ask those long-term questions.
Even if the numbers are preliminary, he said, they're worth knowing. The Planning Board, he said, didn't look at traffic, or economic impact.
"In my opinion it makes no sense to put those questions off," Verga said. "If the information gathered for that comes back and isn't acceptable, why grant the overlay?"
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.