By Linda Boker-Angelo
Gloucester City News
Following a spirited discussion, members of the Gloucester City Planning Board approved preliminary plans for a second-story addition to a former gas station at Broadway and Middlesex Street, pending resolution of a sidewalk issue.
The property, which had been in the City’s possession, was purchased by the owners of Gloucester Travel & Cruise, currently located across the street at 114 N. Broadway.
Local attorney William Dilks, Esq., represented the applicants, who purchased the travel business in 2004.
Dilks outlined co-owner Robert Booth’s plans to add a second floor apartment to the long-vacant building. Booth intends to move Gloucester Travel into one side of the first-floor retail space and then move himself into the proposed two-bedroom apartment.
Booth said another commercial tenant would “hopefully” lease the additional retail unit on the ground floor, and his engineers offered up a site plan providing at least eight customer parking spots and a trim face-lift for the old building.
Planning Board Engineer Mike Brown of Consulting Engineer Services said there is an issue with the slope of the property’s existing sidewalk/driveway on Middlesex Street, which is sharper that Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements allow.
Brown explained that because the sidewalk in that area is a part of the driveway apron, the incline is too great and could represent a danger to someone in a wheelchair or other assisted-movement vehicle, like a motorized scooter.
The Board engineer suggested replacing the existing driveway, which was in place prior to ADA passage in 1990, with a compliant sidewalk and driveway.
Project engineers estimated that such a repair could cost owners Robert Booth and Susan Hathcock about $10,000 to $15,000.
Booth said that such an additional cost would be a huge expenditure for a small business, especially considering how much they are already putting into the project – which would be improving a rundown property that has sat empty for many years.
Board Chairman Frank Wunsch was concerned about leaving the City open to a liability claim if the improvement was not made.
Board Solicitor Anthony Costa suggested tabling the sidewalk issue until next month, saying he felt uncomfortable advising the board as far as whether to require the sidewalk to be replaced or to waive the issue without researching the matter.
Several residents in attendance spoke in support of Booth’s plans, basically stating that that the City should be encouraging business owners, rather than tossing up roadblocks.
Wunsch explained that the Board tries very hard to accommodate both existing and potential local business-owners, but members are also charged with the responsibility of protecting the City’s interest.
The Planning Board will meet again at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, in City Hall, 313 Monmouth St.