GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 5, 2013

Letter: Essex voters deserve more than piecemeal Conomo 'plans'


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Much has been written about the articles regarding Conomo Point that Essex voters will consider at Town Meeting.

I’d like to offer some thoughts about the work done by the Selectmen and the Conomo Point Planning Committee over the last year.

My goal upon election to CPPC at last year’s Town Meeting was to provide the voters with a set of multiple and distinct design concepts, accompanied by clearly presented analysis of finances and other impacts, so that people could make a choice. This is a practical and politically necessary approach to the problem, the solution of which requires a clear idea of the voters’ preference.

The planning and public outreach process undertaken over the last year held out some promise that this would be the case, but the outcome, as embodied in the Brown Sardina report, the “Central Conomo Point” zoning article, and the Selectmen’s overall approach to the issue, falls short.

While I understand the difficulty of the Selectmen’s position and their need to hold many issues in mind —especially the financial issue — as they proceed on CP matters, it is clear to me that their policy hasn’t deviated much from that articulated in position papers produced over the last 1-2 years, a policy that hasn’t been affirmed by the voters.

The planning consultant, Sardina Brown, was constrained from the start from consideration of full or aggressive removal options from North Conomo Point, and anything but a very slow approach to implementation. The result is a single “master plan” concept, with a three-phase implementation plan, not multiple design concepts to debate and choose among.

Moreover, the concept on offer is, for most people, a headscratcher. Sardina Brown, as many people have pointed out in the public forums, misunderstood and over-estimated the architectural value of the “front” houses on Northern Conomo Point. As a result, those are spared any consideration of removal, while houses on the back side are identified for removal.

Furthermore, much of the park space is gotten by building “out” from the front with a lot of activity adjacent to and over the salt marsh. This is dicey, to say the least, with respect to Conservation Commission review and approval.

My own belief is that mixed-use on Northern Conomo Point is likely in the end to be the best solution, but this particular plan is not the way to go; it plainly flies in the face of what most townspeople would like to see as public-use land.

So, the selectmen offer no menu of real planning choices, only one that doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.

It may well be, as Dave Osborne remarked at the first forum, that the full removal scenario is an unacceptably dire financial scenario for the town. But voters don’t get to see what a fully realized park design would look like in return for those costs.

The selectmen state repeatedly that we’re going to go gradually and see “how people like things and whether or not they’ll come to Conomo Point.” This approach confuses planning with implementation, or rather combines them in a messy muddle-our-way-through manner.

This conclusion is driven home by the selectmen’s intention not to put the “master plan” to an actual vote, but instead intend to run the process out over many years of votes on smaller bore items. This co-opts voters’ say on the actual plan.

So my goal to present a broad-banded set of planning alternatives to the Town was not achieved. This is why I signed the petitions for the citizens’ articles on Northern Conomo Point (Articles No. 16, 17 and 18).

I told the petitioner at my door that I didn’t necessarily agree with the approach, but saw it as a choice, a clear vision of Conomo Point’s future that can be debated and voted on Town Meeting floor. Whatever the outcome of the votes on these articles, Essex will at least have a clearer expression of the voters’ desires.

I urge all voters to examine the Selectmen’s and the petitioners’ approaches carefully. Also, as a note to voters, I resigned my seat on the CPPC and there may be at Town Meeting vote to fill it.

Finally, I think that the BOS’s idea of new long-term (up to 15 years) leases, after the short-term lease program now in place, needs re-thinking. My opinion has been that we ought to be able to complete a bona fide planning and design process within the time remaining in the short-term lease program, which now has up to three years and eight months remaining).

Why draw this process out another 15-20 years? We’re all getting old — as is the seemingly endless process of dealing with this issue.

MIKE DYER

Indian Rock Lane, Essex