By Stephanie Bergman
ESSEX — Town officials, having come up short in one request to get an exemption from state bidding rules to sell Conomo Point properties, have called for another Special Town Meeting an attempt to get residents' go-ahead to try again.
Special Town Meeting has been called for Wednesday, April 25, at 7:30 p.m. at Essex Elementary School to, at this point, vote on that single issue. The meeting will come just 12 days before the regularly scheduled Annual Town Meeting on May 7 at the same location.
The Special Town Meeting warrant will request to update a November 2010 vote that asked the state Legislature to allow Essex an exemption from Chapter 30b of the Massachusetts General Laws, a provision that requires a competitive bidding process that would prevent the town from granting the right of first refusal to current Conomo Point leaseholders.
"The legislative committee dealing with the issue informed the town that the Town Meeting vote that allowed the town to seek the exemption needs to be refreshed," Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said. Selectmen voted at their Monday meeting to schedule the Special Town Meeting.
The proposed Chapter 30B exemptions matter because the town's plan for Conomo Point involves selling the town-owned land to the residents of homes built on it, and only reaching out to other buyers if they say no.
If the town must open bidding completely, it could create problems over the ownership of the properties.
No one disputes that the land on Conomo Point belongs to the town, and until recently there was no dispute all the buildings on the land were owned by the home's tenants. Residents of the homes pay both land rent and property taxes.
Recently, however, town officials have stated that the town may also own the buildings — an issue that would be made moot by the plan to sell the land to the homes' tenants. If the properties must be sold to the highest bidder, however, that raises a real question as to what happens to the structures.
State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, the Gloucester Republican who represents Essex, said that the Special Town Meeting vote is a matter of process, not substance, He said the first half of the petition agreed upon in 2010 has been approved, and the main obstacle for the second half is that the vote for the petition cannot be more than a year old when the petition is acted on.
"Part one was to allow the town to lease the land, which got us to bridge leases. That passed," Tarr said. "The thing the Legislature has not done yet is allow the sales," he added, and that year's time frame has expired.
State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, the Gloucester Democrat whose district includes Rockport and Essex, said the vote is a matter of having all the details arranged before the Legislature can move on the petition.
"We asked, what are all the little things this needs to have?" Ferrante said,. "Well, the vote is stale."
Tarr said he thought it is possible that, if the town votes to allow the petition to go forward again, the Legislature could approve it before Annual Town Meeting.
The May 7 Annual Town Meeting has several articles on its warrant relating to Conomo Point, including allowing the sales of the properties south of Robbins Island Road.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or email@example.com.