Up on the four great hills of East Gloucester, there have been some mighty big changes. Gloucester is a city of hills that ring the harbor and define the neighborhoods. But recently, the trend on the four East Gloucester hills is toward the Texas sized, oversized, got-mine, block-you, wait-til-you-see-this, in-your-eye-style house.
Of course, this past year has seen the erection of Fortress Rocky Neck, adjacent to the Paint Factory. Built along a two-axis plan, it doesn’t just block the harbor views of its immediate neighbors. No, it blocks the Boston views up the entire street — every neighbor — with its lengthy garage. How many windows in the whole house? Too many to not lose count halfway. And for how many residents? Not many.
Moving across Smith’s Cove, the Haskell Street hill also now boasts a Texas-style set of two mammoth condos, joined by a thin connecting wall. They are also completely out of scale to anything in the neighborhood or the next neighborhood on adjacent hills. One resident called them “our twin Taj Mahals” - as they dwarf the surrounding houses. It is a “two family by-right” house, where they are not a two-family house but two large separate houses joined by a membrane. Just like on the third hill, the towering phony gray “two-family” near Banner Hill off Mt. Pleasant. The homeowner couldn’t subdivide his lot so he declared a two family and built a fake connector between the separate houses. Taken together, they are enormous. Whizzed right though the boards. Just like the gray house on the top of Wall Street hill built at the head of the South Fork. Again, way out of scale to its neighbors, its vertical space is impressive for its tight locale.
To all of them I ask: Why do you need to be so gigantic when you are already on top of the hill? You have a terrific view without having to shoot the moon and block everyone else. The folks that build these palaces never end up staying very long, either. It’s always their “dream house” and then six to eight years go by and they say it’s too big for their older age and they sell and leave the scarred neighborhood behind to get something smaller.
But really folks, have our Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals ever met an oversized project they didn’t like - excuse me, love — especially on the tallest tops of hills? Most times it feels like our giveaway boards encourage builders to “celebrate their Caesar” — because building big nets the city more taxes. Do they just want to increase our density? Did they ever meet a project they didn’t like? Used to be developers moaned about Gloucester, how hard it was to get anything through. But now the running joke is that if a project won’t fly in Hull or New Bedford, take it to Gloucester -- they’ll okay anything!
And now we hear our mayor is in favor of the Espresso project -- in court now -- instead of the council’s decision to reject it. Remember when Mayor Bell fought the Griffoni condos behind the Good Harbor Beach flood zone, for years? This is the opposite. Sefatia Romeo Theken is an extremely empathetic individual. She will console folks when their cat dies or their mother is ill. Facebook is filled with so many comments: “Thank you so much for what you do!” But what exactly does she do? She cuts ribbons, appears in the center of every single photo taken in Gloucester, again consoles cat owners and is an excellent cheerleader for Gloucester and the Gloucester Brand. But she lets the Boys’ Club trample all over every important decision in town. She talks tough with the “Codmother” label, but knuckles under to the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, the Jonathan Pope-driven School Committee, the Waterways Board, and the DPW. She couldn’t even commit to hire police Chief Ed Conley until the Club returned from vacation. She has let the school project run away from her without any alternatives or estimates of repairing the old schools. Only one super-expensive option. And the Club is going to run up some huge bills in the next five years, run roughshod over the residents and get the heck out of office.
So, of course, the excuse is always “we need the tax money more than ever.” Of course you do when you buy top-of-the-line. And here’s a hint: Don’t have the facilities report to evaluate the condition of the schools written by the architects who will profit from building the new schools they recommend. Ever heard of a third party -- so there is zero conflict of interest? I don’t know about you, but I will never vote to override until I hear any alternative. Talk about hubris on the School Committee. They still won’t tell you how much you will stuck for in extra taxes. They don’t need a stinkin’ alternative. It’s not their money, they don’t care. Perhaps you, voter, also don’t care? But do we really need a large, separate arts and media center -- that belongs on a college campus - for an elementary school? Whatever happened to families loving those small, neighborhood schools?
So, if the Mayor-backed Espresso falls, expect Bob’s Clam Shack and Pilot’s HiIl to go too. A forest of units there. Even more in West Gloucester. Once the developers can override traffic and zoning concerns, they will. And no one will protect us. I always assumed Sefatia would because she always seemed to represent local Gloucester, old Gloucester, regular Gloucester. But when she and The Boys Clubs run up the bills this much, will she end up doing more to eliminate those familiar Gloucesters by the time she’s done than anyone else has ever done? Sure looks like that’s what’s ahead. Just look around at the skyline, folks, in town and in the country. What are you going to do when one of these projects is targeting your street? It’ll be too late by then. Vote your feelings, people. Speak out for changing the direction of the boards. Gloucester is not a big piggy bank. Bitch, moan, yell, tell the mayor — you don’t have to suck up to her — to moderate those boards. We need some development, yes, but let’s stop with the wave of money. Email, post, lobby, demand, vote a message — to protect your Gloucester!
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.