By Sean Horgan
---- — The Gloucester City Council presented Scott Memhard with the hat trick of political support Tuesday night when it joined Mayor Carolyn Kirk and the city’s state legislative contingent to support the removal of Cape Pond Ice’s Commercial Street property from the city’s Designated Port Area.
The council voted 7-0, with councilor-at-large Joe Ciolino recusing himself and councilor Sefatia Romeo Theken voting “present,” to express its support for Memhard’s quest to excise his property from the city’s DPA, which requires that 50 percent of any parcel within its boundaries carry a marine industrial and water-dependent use.
At the behest of Kirk, state Senate Minority leader Bruce Tarr and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante currently are in the midst of drafting a bill that would remove the Cape Pond Ice property, located at 104-106A Commercial St., from the DPA.
In recusing himself from the vote and excusing himself from the council chambers, Ciolino cited his need to avoid any perception of conflict of interest due to his business and personal relationship with Memhard.
Theken, angry that council president Jackie Hardy would not allow Memhard’s lawyer, Meredith Fine, the opportunity to rebut speakers who opposed the motion to support Memhard’s request, said she voted present because she did not feel she was getting both sides of the story.
The motion to support Memhard, filed by councilor-at-large Bruce Tobey, sailed through the council’s planning and development subcommittee last week on a 3-0 vote and met with no resistance Tuesday night from any of the councilors — even those admittedly reticent about tampering with the boundaries or composition of the DPA.
“There is a clock ticking on this one,” said Ward 1 Councilor Paul McGeary, who earlier voted against Tobey successful motion to file a home rule petition with the Massachusetts Legislature to remove the city-owned 1-4,C-2 parcel from the DPA. “We need to support him. This is a vital part of our waterfront infrastructure. This is an asset Gloucester needs to preserve.”
“The council’s decision was wise and it was brave to do that in an election year,” Fine said. “
That’s not to say there was no opposition to Memhard’s request.
Ann Molloy, one of the family owners of Memhard’s neighbor, Ocean Crest Seafood/Neptune’s Harvest, made an impassioned plea to councilors that rejiggering the DPA on behalf of Memhard would undermine the essence of the DPA and leave Gloucester’s marine-related waterfront businesses vulnerable to development pressure from non-marine/industrial uses.
“If Scott gets out, we want out, too,” Molloy said. “I like Scott. I really do. But we’re having the same struggles.”
“The city should support us in the marine industrial (zoned area),” Molloy said Wednesday. “The DPA is important to what we do down here and without it, we’re going to be forced out.”
The danger, she said, is that modifying or eliminating the DPA would strip the waterfront marine businesses of their greatest protection from the onset of businesses representing conflicting uses to what exists now.
“The next thing you know, it’s going to be a conflict with us loading our trucks or our right of way in front of his building,” Molloy said. “And the complaints. We produce liquid fertilizer here, with the smells and the noises.”
She questioned the true extent of Memhard’s business troubles, pointing out that he was able to construct a new second floor and that she once offered to buy the property and allow him to continue running his ice business while her businesses assumed the rest of the site.
Fine disputed that statement.
“She never made an offer on the terms that she said (Tuesday) night,” Fine said. “He does not remember her making that offer.”
On Wednesday, Molloy expressed disappointment that her remarks at Tuesday night’s meeting didn’t at least generate more discussion among councilors.
“They basically had their minds made up,” she said of the councilors. “After I poured my heart out and basically laid it on the line about what’s happening down here, they didn’t respond to one bit of information. They just went right ahead and voted.”
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT