[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. Jim Lyons previously served as a state representative not a senator.]
When Gloucester's new City Council meets Tuesday night, its members will be considering a controversial appointment to the city's Human Rights Commission and the conversion of a business site into a new multi-family or apartment dwelling.
But, with a seasoned team, councilors are feeling confident going into the new year.
"I am excited that most of the councilors who are on the current council are returning. There is no lack of experience," Councilor at-Large Jen Holmgren said. "The newly elected are invested in the community and have proven their heart."
The council, including newly appointed Ward 2 Councilor Barry Pett and Councilor at-large John J. McCarthy, will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, in City Hall's Kyrouz Auditorium. On the agenda is approval of the appointment of Amanda Orlando Kesterson as a member of the city's Human Rights Commission and a public hearing regarding the request to convert the former Magnolia House of Pizza at 35 Fuller St. into a new multi-family or apartment dwelling.
"I am confident that we have a robust, well-informed council with diverse opinions," Holmgren continued.
Kesterson, an office manager of Orlando & Associates, has been nominated to a seat on the Human Rights Commission.
She said being a commissioner would allow her to "advocate for the rights of children who are often under-represented in the city of Gloucester."
With three children of her own and as a former high school English teacher at Manchester Essex Regional High School, Kesterson said she believes she would brings a unique and needed perspective to the commission.
"This group should be diverse," Kesterson explained about who makes up the Human Rights Commission. "There should be different ages, religion, genders, political viewpoints. If we are a going to represent human rights, we cannot all be from one segment."
An anonymous poster on gloucesterclam.com urged readers to write or call city councilors to veto the appointment of Kesterson, a call echoed by Women's Equality Cape Ann and posters on the Because Gloucester Facebook page.
Many cited Kesterson's support of and from state Republican Party leader Jim Lyons, a former state representative and a conservative who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Lyons has voted against protections for transgender individuals, opposed a bill that would have banned "conversion therapy" used by religious groups to change teens’ sexual orientation, and sought to block attempts to add a neutral “Gender X” classification on driver's licenses.
Lyons has endorsed Kesterson for re-election to the state Republican Committee; she also heads the Gloucester and Cape Ann Republican organizations.
Others thought Kesterson would be a good fit for a "diverse" commission, citing her conservative views, and calling her a "good mom and hard worker."
Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken is hopeful that 2020 will be the year that moves Gloucester forward.
"2019 was a successful year for this city, but I'm excited about the prospects for 2020 and beyond," wrote Mayor Romeo Theken in her Jan. 14 Mayor's Report. "We are confident that Gloucester will keep moving forward as we all work together to make our city the best it can be."
As the city strives to do just that, councilors will host a public hearing during the meeting to discuss the conversion of 35 Fuller St., the former Magnolia House of Pizza, into a new multi-family or apartment dwelling, with four to six dwelling units.
Attorney Mark Nestor, who is representing Beauport Shores LLC, explained that the applicant is looking to rebuild the structure that was destroyed in a three-alarm fire in 2014.
In doing so, "the applicant is asking to increase the number of residential building units from two 3-bedroom residential units to four 2-bedroom residential units, and two 1-bedroom residential units — these will be condominium units," according to minutes of a Nov. 6 Planning and Development Committee meeting. "The applicant also seeks to decrease the minimum per dwelling unit and to decrease the minimum open space per dwelling unit."
Community members will have the opportunity to express their comments and, or concerns during the hearing.
Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or email@example.com.