Concord Street neighbors raise concerns about contractor's yard

The entrance to 44-44R Concord St., whose owner is before the City Council and Planning Board seeking a zoning change.

From the backyard of John Burlingham’s Concord Street home, you can just make out through the woods a camper, a box truck, a utility truck and an excavator set on a hill.

That property, which is not far from Exit 54 of Route 128, is zoned for homes, he said, maybe a landscaping business with a small dump truck. Nothing more.

However, he and others say much more than that has gone on at 44-44R Concord St. for the past 10 years. Land has been cleared and leveled, he said. Boats, trailers and vehicles have been stored. The activity can get noisy at times.

Last summer, amid complaints from neighbors, an attorney for the owners said they began working to clear up zoning violations and remove vehicles and boats, while seeking a change in zoning rules that would allow a tenant to operate a construction/contracting business and a boat storage operation on the property.

“The whole neighborhood is against it,” said Burlingham. “We just want to maintain a residential neighborhood.”

From aerial photos on Google, the activities neighbors are questioning appear to be taking place in the woods to the west and behind the Wingaersheek Inn & Motel at 46 Concord St. West Parish Elementary School is to the south.

On Jan. 5, a zoning change proposal came before the City Council’s three-member Planning and Development Committee, and the Planning Board the next night. It seeks to change the property’s zoning from R-20, a low/medium density residential district, to Extensive Business, which generally does not allow residential uses.

“Our main goal of the application is to use the property, primarily 44R Concord St., to operate a contractor’s yard and a boat storage facility which is authorized by a special permit under Extensive Business zone but not under R-20,” said Gloucester attorney Mark Nestor, who represents owners Eric Holdsworth and Geoffrey Kolterjahn.

The property at 44R Concord St. is 5 acres, with an assessed value of $21,400, while 44 Concord St. has a single-family ranch home on its 1.25 acres, and is assessed at $173,600.

Nestor said his client has had a farm permit for a number of years, but is seeking to expand that to handle gravel, sand and loam. Nestor told the committee he attempted to meet with abutters Aug. 4 to address concerns, but only the inn’s owner showed up. He said the contractor’s yard would have a minimal impact on the neighborhood.

No recommendation on the zoning was made at the Jan. 5 meeting with city councilors, who heard from Zoning Enforcement Officer Greg Cefalo.

“This property had come to light through some complaints that we had received,” said Cefalo, whose office investigated, found violations, and met with the owners who, he said, started to remove excess vehicles and other things that were “problematic on the property.”

Not long after, they hired Nestor, Cefalo said.

“The activity from a year ago has decreased substantially,” Cefalo said, who said he has been out there about a half-dozen times in the last few months. “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still zoning violations ... but what we would like to try to do is to try and work with the individuals and try to get this stuff at least on the radar and active.”

Councilor at-Large Jason Grow asked if any fines had been issued, and Cefalo said, “No.”

A July 17 letter requiring the owners to cease the zoning violations within 20 days also states that zoning violation fines are $300 per day, and that failure to comply “will result in the city of Gloucester filing a criminal complaint against the property owner of record through the court system.”

Building Commissioner Bill Sanborn said in an interview his department can assess fines for zoning violations, but the city would have to go to court to collect them, which it has not done.

Former City Councilor Jen Holmgren went on Zoom to ask Cefalo why, if he is willing to work with a property owner on remediating violations, “why didn’t you extend this same courtesy to multiple complaints delivered by residents who live in the neighborhood who brought these issues to the building inspector’s office over a number of years?”

“This is not personal,” Cefalo said. “This is business and what we try to do is work these things out to the benefit of everyone. Sometimes the course of action doesn’t satisfy everyone, but we do our best to move this stuff forward.”

Grow said Monday that a site visit is planned for this Thursday at 3:30 p.m. The City Council is expected to schedule a public hearing on the matter for Jan. 25.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at eforman@northofboston.com.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at eforman@northofboston.com.

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