, Salem, MA

March 13, 2014

Our view: It's time to ease Beverly waterfront restrictions

The Salem News

---- — The downtown section of Beverly where Cabot and Rantoul streets touch the water is one of the great untapped assets on the North Shore. That it remains the site of a decades-old, abandoned McDonald’s restaurant is nothing short of an embarrassment to the city.

There is, however, a chance for change.

While a Supreme Judicial Court ruling earlier this month scuttled city-backed plans for a Black Cow restaurant on the waterfront site, there is still hope that the area along the harbor can be developed to its full potential.

Mayor Michael Cahill took the first step in that direction earlier this week, saying the city will ask the state to remove the waterfront’s “designated port area” classification. It’s a move that is long overdue.

The DPA regulations, created in 1978, were meant to protect the state’s working waterfronts from encroachment by development ranging from condominiums to, yes, restaurants. The rules were a good idea at the time, serving to protect historic marine industries like commercial fishing and shipping.

In 2014, however, that era has largely passed in Beverly. Ships once came to the harbor to unload chemicals for local tanneries. Now the area is dominated by recreational vessels.

“We have a strong belief that, for the most part, our DPA does not function as a DPA is intended to function,” Cahill told reporter Paul Leighton. “There is no marine industrial use down in our DPA.”

We agree.

It was the DPA regulations that ultimately killed the city’s plan to lease the Glover’s Wharf property to restauranteur Joseph Leone, who hoped to build a Black Cow there. An Appeals Court judge ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to deny the city a permit needed for the restaurant plan, saying the state agency failed to consider a proposal from nearby Port Marina for a boatyard that would have been more suited to a working waterfront.

But even Port Marina owner Frank Kinzie said he would like to see restaurants and shops along the water; lifting the DPA designation would allow him to reinvent his property, as well.

While the state has never lifted a DPA designation, officials seem to be at least open to the idea.

Kathryn Glenn, the North Shore regional coordinator for Coastal Zone Management, said the agency would consider an area’s physical characteristics and also whether it has the “character” of an industrial area. Clearly, there’s nothing “industrial” about the city’s old McDonald’s.

If the DPA is lifted, city rezoning would follow, meaning it could be up to two years before work could begin. Leone, who has a beautiful restaurant on the revitalized Newburyport waterfront, says he’s still interested in a Beverly project. Others might also be willing to invest, if DPA regulations are lifted.

The rebirth of downtown Beverly won’t be complete until the waterfront is developed in a way that meets the needs of a 21st century city. Holding to outdated state zoning laws will only delay that progress and ensure the waterfront’s dominant landmark remains a shuttered fast-food restaurant that hasn’t served a Happy Meal in almost 20 years.