The Gloucester City Council last week ended months of debate over the future of a waterfront strip of land when it voted to change the city's zoning and allow for a hotel to be built on the site.
"Gloucester needs to move forward, and we need to show progression in the city," said Jackie Hardy, council president, after the 8-to-0 vote to approve the hotel overlay district in the city's Fort neighborhood. The vote followed four hours of debate and months of public meetings.
Sefatia Romeo Theken, council vice president, abstained from voting. A vice president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, which opposes the hotel, said she abstained because she had sought and had yet to receive a ruling from the State Ethics Commission regarding whether her position with the association presented a conflict of interest in the vote.
The $17 million to $20 million hotel proposal calls for a 102- to 106-room facility to be built on a 2-acre parcel where freeze-flashing of food was first attempted. New Balance owner Jim Davis and Sheree DeLorenzo, who have proposed the hotel plan, still need a special permit to move forward on the project. Davis could not be reached for comment, but DeLorenzo said that their company, Beauport Gloucester, would apply for the permit this month.
No timeline has been set for the start of construction.
"This was a positive first step, but the process is far from over," said DeLorenzo, who co-owns a nearby function hall, restaurant, and dock with Davis. DeLorenzo said the hotel would be four stories high, employ about 100 people, and include a restaurant and a function hall.
As part of the zoning change, the hotel could not include condos or a casino. While the hotel would overlook the ocean, there are no plans to build on the beach, which would remain public, said DeLorenzo.
Beauport Gloucester's plan was the third hotel proposed for the Fort property in recent years.
The other plans were jettisoned after developers failed to gain neighborhood and citywide support. The latest plan also drew fierce opposition in this tightly packed neighborhood, where fish factories sit across from modest single- and multiple-family homes and where tractor-trailers drive in and out on the one road that gives access to the peninsula.
Neighbors and businesses preferred that the property be used for marine industrial purposes, but city officials were not persuaded.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who supported the proposal, said the planned hotel could boost commercial investment in a city where just 10 percent of total taxes collected comes from businesses. She estimated that a hotel could generate as much as $500,000 a year in property, meals, and rooms taxes.
"This is Gloucester saying yes to something positive for the economy, for jobs, and the tax base," Kirk said. "In some ways, it's a milestone for the city, because we're recognizing that change can occur and be positive."
In recent years, the city has approved two hotel applications, but, to date, developers have yet to build them.
Some residents of the Fort section who oppose the hotel believe that the council decision represents the beginning of major changes in their neighborhood, which has pristine harbor views and fewerthan 50 homes. Kirk insists that no condos will be allowed in the Fort, which includes an area zoned as a state Designated Port Area that prohibits residential use. Still, opponents such as Jimmy Tarantino, who helped organize Fort opposition to the hotel, believe that the council's vote will lead to many changesalong the city's storied waterfront.
"It's the beginning of the end,” he said. “It's gentrification."