To the editor:
There was an absurd attempt a few years ago to build a home on a narrow strip of land overhanging the rocks on the Back Shore, but fortunately after neighborhood uproar the project was stopped. In West Gloucester a developer was approved to squeeze 12 homes into a rocky and wooded area, but thanks to a DEP intervention is now facing the reality of making a futile attempt to design a workable conservation plan. On Wingaersheek Beach, an oversized home to be built on stilts that would block neighbors’ views is being held up in court.
Such is life in the world of development in Gloucester, and it clearly shows a pattern of overzealous developers using attorneys with good imaginations to influence and misinform our City Council and boards. Their primary tool is to skirt the zoning laws by securing special permits, enabling them to build more or larger homes than would normally be allowed. Besieged neighborhoods have learned that the only way to slow down these unreasonable building efforts is to mount a defense with their own time and money to bring a violation to light. Projects then drag on for years at great expense to all.
It has become “standard procedure” in Gloucester for its residents to assure that the city zoning regulations are followed. The reason is that our own city administration is ignoring the regulations. In spite of clearly stated zoning regulations with comprehensive plans, open space plans, and recommended housing plans to guide them, the mood of city officials is to promote development of any kind. Put eight homes on a half-acre lot on East Main Street? No problem. Two hundred apartments in Gloucester Crossing? Great idea. A cluster of 12 homes in the woods? Sure. Want clarification of conservation, cluster housing, or conservation regulations? Just listen to the developers’ attorneys.
A major role our elected mayor and City Council is to appoint, direct and manage growth through its boards. It is also the ongoing task of the City Council to directly approve or disapprove most of the development projects. These elected officials should be listening to its citizens who put them in office. It was heartening to witness the overwhelming response last week at the hearing regarding the Espresso property. The City Council is now listening, and that is a positive sign. However, it is unfortunate that it took an angry crowd of 60 residents from the affected neighborhood to get the point across after four years of fighting the proposal. The developers never should have been allowed to take it that far.
We can be sure that being at the end of the train line and on the ocean in a desirable city, Gloucester will be inundated with demands for housing. But the demand has to be properly managed. We are an island with only two roads connecting the town to the mainland, and the streets within the town are all single lane with many narrow passages. Our zoning ordinance clearly states that its purpose, among others, is “to prevent overcrowding of land; to avoid undue concentration of population.” Irresponsible development can quickly destroy what makes our city desirable, and once it happens there is no going back. The residents of this city are fully aware of that. The City Council is tuning in. We need our mayor and its boards to do the same. Now.