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Gloucester, Massachusetts Residents On a Marriott Hotel Plan:
 'No, No', 'No and Never'
By Richard Gaines, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September 24, 2008 - --Worried about being gentrified out of their neighborhood and angry at a plan engineered elsewhere to rezone their world, residents and businessmen of the Fort mixed soaring rhetoric and pep rally techniques to tell city planners to go away and leave them alone.

"Everybody say 'no'," resident Clayton Sova implored in the middle of the three-hour meeting Monday night. "No, no," responded nearly everybody in the crowded Kyrouz Auditorium at City Hall.

They were saying no to the widespread notion that what the office of Mayor Carolyn Kirk and her Community Development Department have in mind for the Fort is an eminent domain sweep and new purpose -- as the future home of a Marriott hotel on the site of the former Birds Eye Foods property and condos that will rob the isolated neighborhood of its gritty authenticity and soul.

City officials conceded that the hotel -- a well-publicized possibility for months -- played into the decision to begin the economic redevelopment of the waterfront at the Fort. But they did what they could to shoot down the rumors of condos, property takings and a try at ending the way of life on the Fort.

"There are deep-rooted misconceptions and lots of unfounded fear," Shawn Henry, a member of the Planning Board, which was meeting in conjunction with the City Council's Planning and Development Committee, said in an interview yesterday.

"They think they're getting the bums' rush," the Planning Board's Rick Noonan said yesterday.

A third meeting was scheduled for Oct. 20. The Planning Board is obligated to recommend a rezoning plan to City Council which has the authority to change the present all-encompassing marine industrial zone.

The passion of the moment was even hotter Monday night than it was a week earlier as the board and committee resumed the task of inching toward modernized zoning for a marine industrial enclave that includes archaic infrastructure and homes overlooking heavy-duty fish processors and empty lots. Kirk had raised the intensity with an e-mail following the first rezoning meeting a week earlier. In her message to the Planning Board and council, the mayor revealed that she hadn't heard adamant opposition to the hotel.

"I did not hear a resounding 'no or never,'" she wrote.

She did Monday night.

"Mayor Kirk," said Leonard McCollum of Ocean Crest Seafoods, one of the industries of Commercial Street, "I am here tonight to make sure you hear us this time. I give you my resounding 'no and never.' A luxury hotel and luxury condos would be a huge mistake on a road called 'Commercial Street.'"

He predicted the sensibilities of hotel guests would be offended by the sight, sound and smell of the industrial port, which has established a powerful line along the pier properties of Commercial Street.

Yet Kirk, the audience and city officials also heard a plea for a year-round hotel as an economic stimulus for the city from group tour operator Linn Parisi, who this summer created Seaport Gloucester, a destination marketing organization.

"We're not reinventing the wheel, there are hotels all over the universe," said Parisi, who this summer brought more than 400 motor coaches into the city and guided many of their passengers on foot through the Fort to get the flavor of the port.

She estimated each bus load was worth $10,000 in an overnight stay in a future hotel.

"It's a real place with real people and a working community," she said. "Because of what we are," reaction to the experience is "stellar," she added.

Hotel developers, who have met with Kirk, are watching the rezoning hearings carefully, according to Sargent Goodchild, the agent for the Illinois bank that last month took title to the former Birds Eye property from longtime owner Peter Maggio, Maggio continues to operate a cold storage business in the building where the concept of flash-frozen fish was perfected in the 1920s.

"A week to 10 days ago," Goodchild said, "negotiations were proceeding smoothly. Recently, they seem to have slowed down."

Kirk told the gathering that anyone for $3.5 million could acquire the property, which -- while it is in a marine industrial zone -- cannot be rebuilt as a hotel or used in ways that don't fit snugly with the row of businesses across Commercial Street. Those include Intershell, Mortillaro's Lobster Co., Felicia's, a full service facility for draggers, North Atlantic Seafood, Ocean Crest, Neptune's Harvest's fish product fertilizer, Cape Pond Ice and Parisi's off-loaded and retail fish.

"I don't think a hotel is going up there in six months, one year, five years or 10 years based on what I heard tonight," said Councilor Jason Grow.

The prospect of a hotel in the Fort is the most compelling but far from the only zoning dilemma facing the board and the council committee.

The marine industrial zone also encompasses the Fort's citadel of more than 70 closely packed, non-conforming homes and apartment buildings.

Residents objected to the Kirk administration's proposal to make the enclave a neighborhood business zone that welcomes residences and allows small businesses, an option that became the R-4 residential zone. But it would come with noise ordinance protection that could give residents a weapon to use against the industrial base along Commercial Street and Harbor Cove.

Then, there is the trial balloon for a theoretical harbor district zone along the largely derelict wharves along the outside of the Fort, where fishing boats off-load into Parisi's facility for shipment to the Boston Seafood Display Auction.

The new zone would add to the marine industrial zone use schedule by allowing recreational as well as commercial boating business activity. But property owner Rosalie Parisi said she preferred to keep the limitations of the old zone, except for a liberalization to allow for residential use on the second floor.

In contrast to the elected City Council, which writes zoning, the appointed Planning Board, charged with making recommendations, is expected to "look past the emotional arguments and do what's best for the city and the neighborhood," Henry said.

Board members Henry McCarl and Noonan used nearly similar words to assert their willingness to insulate their thinking from expressed emotion.

"People of the Planning Board definitely feel that way," said McCarl.

Richard Gaines can be reached at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com

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To see more of the Gloucester Daily Times or to subscribe, go to http://www.gloucestertimes.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

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