Gloucester Daily Times
---- — To the editor:
Until recently, Essex has owned over 120 lots at Conomo Point, and has leased them for over 100 years.
This continued until state environmental regulations forced the town to reduce ownership to no more than 90 bedrooms of residence capacity. By court order, most of the lots have to be sold or no longer used as residences.
So far, the town has committed to selling 41 of the lots at southern Conomo. The town has developed a plan that recommends selling and repurposing a number of the remaining lots, reducing the remaining bedroom count down to 125. The town then proposes removing 37 bedrooms from the remaining dwellings.
This would leave the town owning 88 bedrooms and all of northern Conomo, to then be leased for a 15-year term. During this time, the town would consider whether to allocate any or all of the land for use as public space.
Forming an opinion on what the town should do next means weighing three key factors: the financial impact, the interests of the tenants, and the goal of creating a public space.
Under this plan, the leasing provides additional revenue. A park is not created, so residences are not lost. The land is not sold, so a park is still possible in the future. Everybody wins, right?
Well ... not really.
“Removing” 37 bedrooms doesn’t pass the smell test. The proposed leases have major risks, and will likely bring in little or no revenue for the town. The legal liabilities actually increase. The incentives for the tenants to pay for maintenance and capital improvements are gone. Nothing is resolved, and the town will be battling over these issues for at least another 20 years.
Any equity the tenants had with the dwellings and the lease rights would be practically eliminated. Unlike everyone else at Conomo, these remaining leaseholders will probably never be sold their lots. Instead, they get a permanent looming threat that the town will take their lot for public space at the end of their lease. Lawsuits will ensue.
And those wanting public space get no significant benefit at all. They only keep a possibility alive. No significant space is actually allocated.
So in reality, the town’s plan for Northern Conomo fails to deliver on any of the three key factors.
There is a way out of this. If we separate what the town ultimately does from when it does it, it is clear that resolving Conomo Point soon solves many problems. These lots should either become park space or be sold. The leasing should end.
Our Town Meeting form of government allows any voter to submit a warrant article with just 10 valid signatures. A group of concerned citizens has taken that step and submitted an article for next Monday’s May 2013 Town Meeting, to give the town an opportunity to vote a for public space when current leases expire. A second warrant article has also been submitted which instructs the town to sell the remaining lots currently leased by the town.
This plan would end the uncertainty that has plagued this neighborhood for years. The park outline would take up roughly half of Northern Conomo and the remainder would be sold.
Essex could get out of the leasing business and resolve many of the existing legal issues that have plagued the town. The neighborhood would heal, and Essex would have some of the nicest waterfront public space on the North Shore.
We encourage all Essex citizens to vote at the upcoming Town Meeting Monday night at the Essex Elementary School.