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Hull tries to broaden its tax base

Officials in Hull say they hope that proposed zoning changes and an ­infusion of $1.95 million in state cash for road work will spark business development near the town’s famed Nantasket Beach and help relieve home­owners’ heavy share of the property tax burden.

“Only 4 percent of the tax base is commercial, which is incredibly ­anemic,” said Robert Fultz, the town’s director of community development and planning. By contrast, businesses pay about 11 percent of property taxes in neighboring Hingham, accord­ing to the assessor’s office there.

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Fultz said Hull is working hard to encourage business growth, targeting a narrow strip of land ­between its ocean and bay beaches along Nantasket Avenue, the most heavily traveled road in town.

He said there has been some development in the area, including a new Italian restaurant, a spa, and a surfing shop.

A local contractor has also turned a blighted building into four condominiums, and new hotel owners put about $1 million into the newly named Nantasket Beach Resort, he said. But about a half-dozen buildings in the area are ­vacant, and at least as many are underutilized, Fultz said.

“Our goal,” he said, “is to look at those buildings and opportunities and make it more attractive to development, to make things more flexible, so we can get some modicum of a tax base.”

One way to do that is to simplify the zoning, he said. Currently there are seven zoning classifications in the area, “so it’s very confusing to developers,” he said.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has helped the town develop a simpler zoning overlay plan, which would ­allow a mix of residential and commercial uses, he said.

The zoning proposal, which would need Town Meeting ­approval, will be presented at a Planning Board meeting Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall, and Fultz said community input is welcomed.

Officials hope the recent $1.95 million state grant from the MassWorks program also will stimulate local development.

The money will be used to rebuild the Nantasket Avenue streetscape from Bay Street to Anastos Corner, work that includes new sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, sidewalk furniture, and crosswalks accessible to wheelchairs.

Town Meeting will be asked in May to spend another $800,000 to place utilities under­ground, Fultz said.

The zoning changes and construction will benefit not only the immediate area, but ­also the state-owned property directly across Nantasket Beach and the long-vacant land owned by the Hull Redevelopment Authority, Fultz said. Both sites could use the help, he said.

The town won the right two years ago to lease and sublet to a private developer for 99 years  the 2 acres of ocean-view land owned by the state Depart­ment of Conservation and Recreation.

But a request for proposals last year drew no interest. The property now houses an empty police station, a few offices, a totem pole, and storage space for state-owned plows, trash cans, lifeguard chairs, and maintenance trucks.

The Hull Redevelopment Authority has been trying for years to redevelop its acreage farther down Nantasket Avenue, choosing a Cape Cod firm in 2003 to build 66 condominiums on the site.

The project withstood several court challenges from opponents, but never got off the ground.

When the agency canceled its contract, the developer sued; the case is pending in Plymouth Superior Court.  

Agency chairman Bartley Kelly said that he hopes to be able to look for a new developer soon, and that zoning changes and the infrastructure improvements will make the site more attractive.

“We’re in a unique spot that’s beautiful, but when you turn into Hull you’re going on a 7-mile road that’s a dead end,“ he said. “It’s not on the way to anywhere.

“I just hope the zoning moves forward and puts the framework in place that allows some good things to happen for the town.’’

State Representative ­Garrett Bradley, who has been working with local officials, said that trying to get businesses interested in the area “has been extremely challenging.”

“But I think we’re getting the pieces together,” said the ­Hingham Democrat, whose district includes Hull.

Fultz said the town has looked at mixed-used development at both Scituate Harbor and the ­Hingham Shipyard as examples of projects that could work in Hull.

Residents have said they want businesses that preserve the historic character and environment of the town, as well as generate tax income, he said.

“It’s interesting that the Hingham Shipyard brings in a little carousel in the summer,” he said. “We have one here, the most historic structure in the state . . . so now we want to get every­thing else that goes around it.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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