Friday, April 17, 2009

Residential Development: Who's Right and Who's Wrong

Change comes to Gloucester gradually, but when it happens it is dramatic! In the 1950s a rash of hotel fires all but eliminated the hotel business community, four large hotels going up in smoke almost overnight! In the early ‘60s urban renewal took a major part of our waterfront, leaving eyesore harbor vistas to the present day. Government vessel investment resulting in our offshore fleet buildup spiked in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. In the mid-eighties in only 18 months,
our offshore fishing fleet experienced massive sinkings in response to a perceived declining resource. Gloucester was responding to changing economic and market conditions, vacationing habits and increased mobility. We also were adjusting to Rt. 128’s continuing drain on our Main Street businesses. To those of us who have lived these past 50 years in Gloucester, the changes have been almost incredible.

Route 128 A. Piatt Andrew Expansion Bridge

As our lifestyle has altered, so must our perspective on residential building change. For the first 350 years, residential development was severely limited due to our famous Cape Ann granite foundation. Installation advances in waste treatment (sewage) disposal have given contractors the ability to build almost anywhere in any season on Cape Ann. This has had far reaching ramifications for our community, especially since our land mass and shoreline are limited. Because of our limited land area, future development strategies dictate proceeding with caution. In other words, our goal should be to achieve “the most bang for our buck”.

The building trades, developers and general contractors over the years, have regarded Gloucester permitting authorities tough to deal with. We as a community are generally considered difficult when dealing with “off island” developer’s proposing new major community residential development. Given our limited land mass and watershed acreage that requires constant vigilance, we must continue to take a guarded approach towards any new residential development now and in the future. Arriving at a proper mix of prudent new development is essential.
Old Nugent Farm Condominium


A few years ago, a prominent local businessman made this statement, “the City of Gloucester should award John McNiff a medal for what he accomplished and gave to Gloucester,” referring to McNiff’s transformation of old Nugent’s farm to functional condominiums. McNiff envisioned this upper middle class housing on a former dairy and produce farm of an earlier era. He transformed a tired, hilly and rocky terrain, creating cluster condominiums. This residential complex is the recipient of numerous awards nationwide for its aesthetics and community-blending character and has stood the test of time! It continues to provide excellent residential living while maintaining its high end value as part of Gloucester’s residential housing inventory.

Old Nugent Farm unit owners pay more than their fair share of residential real estate taxes. In addition, owners assume costs for their trash removal, snowplowing, maintenance of internal roads and sewer system. They are committed to high standards of landscape appearance. These costs are borne by the condo association in maintenance fees charged to the unit owners. Condo owners are often empty-nesters, retirees, and second home buyers. This older demographic group does not impact our local school system and has minimal reported crime. IT IS A WIN-WIN SITUATION for the larger community of Gloucester taxpayers. Old Nugent Farm condos are a cash cow that keeps on giving.

Another successful condominium project is Hawthorne Point. The Hawthorne Inn and Delphine Hotel in the early 1950s were relics of the past. They provided accommodations and nightclub entertainment for summer residents of the 1920s and 1930s. Their seasonal occupancy and related entertainment revenue had declined by the early ‘50s. When the properties burned, Hawthorne Point Condominiums became reality. Another cash cow for Gloucester for all the same reasons associated with McNiff’s Old Nugent Farm project. Hawthorne Point Condominiums, like Old Nugent Farm, are well designed, secluded off Eastern Point Road, returning only high tax revenues to the city. Hawthorne Point is another condo cash cow for the city.

In Gloucester land values and development costs are often restrictive. Shore front land is extremely limited and high in value. The condominium concept allows for maximizing the total number of units on any given footprint. It makes possible the availability and assurance of excellent well-designed housing units in premium locations, to customers that otherwise may not qualify in buying a single family house on a waterfront lot! Condo development can provide economical downsizing for our growing elderly population. It can provide seniors with affordable, higher end housing, independent of maintenance burdens experienced by single family property owners.

It replaces apartment dwellings, low income apartment complexes, and allows families unable to afford single family homes the frequent opportunity to move into condominium home ownership. It is a sensible answer to our diminishing land inventory and affordable independent home ownership. Condominium construction is a better solution to modern-day multifamily housing in Gloucester.

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Part II to be continued April 27, 2009

Residential Developments: Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong (Part II)

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