Hull is moving with caution to develop Nantasket sites

This building was once the beach police station. This building was once the beach police station. (Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe)
By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / July 10, 2011

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Hull officials are looking for a developer willing to sign a 99-year lease for two acres across from Nantasket Beach - land now occupied by an empty police station, a few offices, a totem pole, and storage space for state-owned plows, trash cans, lifeguard chairs, and maintenance trucks.

“It’s crazy,’’ state Representative Garrett Bradley said of the current use of the site. “They’re storing plows and stuff on waterfront property. It’s sacrilege.’’

Hull Town Manager Philip Lemnios said almost any other use would be an improvement. “It’s just kind of a void now; you’re walking along, and you hit this area that has no real public value,’’ he said.

Bradley and state Senator Robert Hedlund cosponsored legislation a year ago that gave the town of Hull permission to lease the land to a private developer. The goal was to preserve the site’s beauty and historic character while bringing economic stimulus to the area and financial benefits to the town.

A town committee has been working since then to get community input and iron out details of a request for proposals from developers. Selectmen are expected to vote on the wording this week, and officials say they could see proposals by the fall.

“It’s been a little bit like raking water up a hill, but I think we’re finally getting somewhere,’’ said Bradley, who has been frustrated by the pace of the process.

Town Planner Robert Fultz defended the timetable, saying it is important to reach out to residents and build community support. He said developers also benefit by getting a good sense of what’s acceptable to Hull.

“We had three community workshops to see what [people] want to see there, and the community was supportive of mixed-use development - commercial, residential, and government [use],’’ Fultz said. “They want “something that would be market viable, but protect the town’s historic character and the environment.’’

Any project also would have to benefit the town financially, Fultz said.

Although the state Department of Conservation and Recreation would maintain ownership of the land, the town could tax anything built there, as well as collect its share of restaurant and hotel taxes, he said. Development also would provide jobs and stimulate the local economy, he said.

Developers under consideration “would be required to submit a fiscal impact analysis, to make sure the bottom line for the town would be in the black,’’ he said.

Fultz added that the town hasn’t determined a price for the lease; that would be part of the developer’s proposal.

Selectman Domenico Sestito said he would like to see “something that is going to attract people to Hull all year round, maybe another resort hotel,’’ similar to the newly renamed Nantasket Beach Resort farther down the beach.

The hope is to bring people who will do more than spend the day at Nantasket, Sestito said.

“The day trippers are not ideal when it comes to boosting our tourism. For the most part they pay their $7 to park in a DCR lot, bring their own lunches, go to the beach, and go home. They may get pizza, ice cream, or ride the carousel, but for the most part it’s not a big benefit to the town,’’ he said.

It wasn’t always that way.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, vacationers took steamboats and trains to Hull to spend time at the beach and at numerous hotels along the shore, and the now-defunct Paragon Park amusement park with its long wooden rollercoaster and water slides.

Visitors reportedly included the actress Sarah Bernhardt, singer Enrico Caruso, and Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, according to local historian Don Ritz.

In 1899, the state took control of Nantasket Beach, under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Parks Commission, which became the Metropolitan District Commission in 1919 and later the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

A 1900 map shows a public restroom and bowling alley on part of the site that the town now is trying to get developed, according to Ritz. Both buildings are gone, he said.

But the police station, built around 1902, is still standing and its jail bars are intact in the rear windows. The station has been empty for years, and its ceilings are falling and interior paint peeling. But the state has spruced up the stucco exterior and stabilized the building, Ritz said.

Next to the station is a pale yellow building with white trim, green shutters, a decorative totem pole, and white picket fence. The former police dormitory, it’s now used by the state for office space. There’s a smaller building behind it that lifeguards use between shifts.

Farther along the strip is a long brick building, originally a laundry to wash rental bathing suits, Ritz said, and an adjacent brick garage. Both structures now are used by the state agency for storage, as are several sheds. (The law that allows Hull to lease the site stipulates that DCR gets a new place to store its considerable amount of stuff.)

The town owns the empty land at the end of the property, which sits between Nantasket Beach and the recently renovated Steamboat Wharf.

This won’t be the first time Hull has tried to bring development back to its shores. Several previous but different approaches have failed, and officials aren’t taking anything for granted this time.

“Trying to transfer any state land to private use has a lot of hurdles, which it should to protect the public’s interest,’’ Bradley said. “We’re also trying to hit the market at the right time and [dealing] with this recession.

“And there’s been a lack of collective will on all levels, including my own, and too many people trying to stir the pot, too much micromanagement,’’ he added.

But Bradley said the site has so much inherent potential, with its panoramic water views and access to public transportation, that he is sure developers will be interested.

“I don’t know what the demand is in the marketplace,’’ said Hedlund. “I just know there is a higher and better use for the property than warehousing trash barrels.’’

Johanna Seltz can be reached at