Preserve West Gloucester Our goal is to build a community organization whose purpose is to protect, preserve and promote West Gloucester.

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"How long West Parish will remain so in the face of avid and determined developers depends on the resolution of the community as a whole." - Joe Garland

186 Concord St. Cluster Development

The City of Gloucester Planning Board has recently approved a Cluster Development proposed for 186 Concord Street, West Gloucester. The Board members incorrectly convinced each other that since only 30 percent of the lot could be developed due to the difficult terrain, they should instead build a cluster of 12 homes on a 6-acre portion. Their logic was that since conventional zoning would allow only six homes to be built, they could build 12 homes using the cluster development special permit. This is not the intent of our cluster zoning ordinance.

Statute 5.9.5 of the Gloucester zoning ordinance clearly states that “The Planning Board, in order to grant a special permit for a cluster development, must find that the proposed design and layout of the development is superior to a conventional one in preserving open space for conservation and recreation; in preserving natural features of the land.” Our Planning Board has ignored this critical point. The developer has not proven how many houses can actually be built on the site, so no one really knows if the cluster is beneficial.

The goal of cluster building is not to put as many houses on a site as possible. It is to conserve the buildable land by condensing the lot sizes.

Local news coverage of planned cluster development at intersection of Bray & Concord Streets:

Why is the City ignoring its own guidelines?

The Daylor Report - West Gloucester Land Use and Waste Water Plan 2001 is intended to act as a policy guide for Gloucester’s departments, boards, commissions, and City Council. However, it is up to these groups to implement the Plan by translating its recommendations into specific policies such as capital improvement projects, zoning ordinances, and other laws and regulations. It was written specifically for Ward 5-2. Highlights include:

  • Direct any new growth away from the rural and environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Maintain the Study Area’s (West Gloucester) existing character. Steep slopes characterize much of the vacant land in the Study Area. As land prices increase, these sites will become increasingly attractive for development despite the additional development costs.
  • Protect the area’s natural resources by enforcing existing regulations
  • Gloucester’s zoning ordinance and other land use regulations determine how land may be used and developed within the Study Area.
  • Manage growth by distributing new development in a way that reinforces the City’s existing pattern of dense developed areas and open space.
  • Match development patterns to infrastructure investments that have already been made or which are cost effective to provide.
  • Protect the integrity of residential neighborhoods
  • Steer growth away from rural and environmentally sensitive areas
  • Virtually all of the land is at least partially constrained by soil conditions.
  • Much of the remaining buildable land in the Study Area is characterized by challenging site conditions such as steep slopes, high groundwater, and shallow soils. In addition, many of these sites are located in close proximity to sensitive water resources. If proper care is not taken, the development of these sites could result in significant runoff, erosion, and nonpoint source pollution, which would threaten to undermine whatever gains in water quality are provided by the sewer.
  • The Study Area contains unique constraints to siting stormwater management systems because of the prevalence of ledge and high groundwater.
  • Each neighborhood was surveyed. Preserving the character of the neighborhood and open space protection was far more important than maximizing residential property values.

88 Bray Street Petition

We petition the Gloucester City Council to permanently protect a 26.3 acre City-owned parcel of land in West Gloucester (88 Bray Street, MBLU 241/9). This property was acquired by the City in a tax taking in March of 2000. It is classified as unbuildable, and valued at $42,000 on the 2018 Assessor’s rolls. This property has a small trail network. It acts as a natural wildlife corridor connecting Greenbelt’s Tompson Street Reservation with the largely wooded Fryklund property. There are intermittent and perennial streams on the property, sections of wooded marsh, and two mapped Potential Vernal Pools. The property could be protected by transferring ownership to the Conservation Commission, or by granting a conservation restriction to a qualified holder.

Where is West Gloucester?

West Gloucester is defined as the area west of the Annisquam River (excluding Magnolia and Rust Island), West Gloucester is the largest in land area and the most rural in character of all of Gloucester’s neighborhoods (Ward 5-2 in adjacent map). Single-family houses comprise the majority of development, focused along major thoroughfares. The remainder of the area is sparsely developed, due in part to the nature of the terrain; it contains extensive wetlands, extremely rocky soils, and many knolls.

West Gloucester History

In 1623, the Dorchester Company, a group of West County English investors, sponsored a colony of fourteen fishermen at Stage Fort, Gloucester’s first settlement. The colony was to be an eastern terminal for the transatlantic fishing trade. This was one of many such fishing camps that dotted the Atlantic coast from Maryland to Maine. By creating permanent bases near fishing grounds, investors hoped to eliminate the costs of expensive annual voyages to the fishing banks. After three years of financial losses, the Stage Fort settlement was abandoned, and the Dorchester Company, with an influx of families, moved south to found Naumkeag, which later became Salem.

West Gloucester developed as one of Gloucester’s dispersed agricultural areas during the 17th century. By 1650, a number of mills had been built in West Gloucester, including one of America’s first tidal mills—on Walker Creek near Concord Street. In 1700, approximately one-quarter of Gloucester’s population lived in West Gloucester; the earliest houses were located near today’s Stage Fort Park. As the town’s population grew during the 18th century, new parishes were formed, including the Second Parish in West Gloucester in 1713 in West Gloucester. From the 18th through the early 20th centuries, West Gloucester remained agricultural, becoming the community’s principal agricultural area by the late 19th century. The most notable of several family clusters was the Haskell family district around Essex Avenue, with others on Lincoln Street, Sumner Street, and Concord Street along Walker Creek.

During the 19th century farmhouses were built along established roads such as Essex Avenue, Concord Street, and Sumner Street; virtually no new streets were laid out. This was due to the marshy terrain at the shoreline and the rocky interior. A typical single farm at the turn of the 19th century was scattered over a wide area and consisted of mowing land for hay, tillage, or plough land, salt marsh, a wood lot, and cow rights for grazing on common land. West Gloucester saw little new development during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Several large parks were established in the area during the late 19th century, including Ravenswood Park (1889), Mt. Ann Park (1897), and Stage Fort Park (1898). Summer resort development began at Coffin’s Beach and Wingaersheek Beach in the early 20th century, peaking in the mid-20th century.

(Sources: The preceding text is largely quoted from Leslie Donovan and Kim Withers Brengle, “A Preservation Plan for the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts,” 1990. Supplemental information was added from the Gloucester Development Team’s Land Marks; Architecture and Preservation in Gloucester, 1979; an unpublished manuscript, “Artists’ Communities in Gloucester, 1750-1948,” by Wendy Frontiero, 1998; and comments from the Gloucester Archives Committee.)

Join Our Cause!

We gratefully accept donations to fund our legal appeal to reduce the scope of the Cluster Development at 186 Concord Street. Please send an email to: info@preservewestgloucester.org and we will respond with information on how to help. We appreciate your support.

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