By Jonathan L'Ecuyer
ESSEX — Voters at Monday night's special Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved a controversial move aimed at excluding Essex from state bidding mandates if officials look to sell any piece of the town-owned properties at Conomo Point.
Town Meeting's approval of Article 16, the Conomo Point exemption, came with an amendment that any attempt to lease or sell property at Conomo Point would require a bylaw to be created by a future town meeting.
The vote to give selectmen the green light to seek the state exemption came amid ongoing debate over how the town should handle the Conomo Point properties and their residents' leases when they expire at the end of next year.
Officials have emphasized, however, that Monday night's vote would not authorize any such sales, which would have to go to a full annual Town Meeting for approval, likely next spring.
The vote — on Article 16, after it was moved to the front of Monday night's agenda — calls for a home-rule petition asking the Legislature for the actual exemption. The exemption, Selectman Chairman Ray Randall and other officials have said, would give the town needed flexibility as it seeks to nail down its options regarding the Conomo site.
Voters were also considering more than 20 additional articles Monday night — with Article 1 asking for $47,500 to fund a study that will present building options for Town Hall and the police and fire headquarters.
The study is aimed at augmenting the Town Building Committee's research into the matter and could confirm the Committee's vision for the future of Essex, which included a new public safety building that would house the police and fire stations and a new Town Hall and library building, both in new locations.
Officials had already put the feasibility study out to bid, subject to garnering voter support Monday night.
The committee has recommended moving the Fire and Police Departments from 24 Martin St. to a to-be-designed and constructed building on town-owned land in Spring Street Cemetery abutting John Wise Avenue.
The public safety building on Martin Street — where the basement routinely floods — would be demolished. A new combined Town Hall and library building would be constructed on the site and existing town offices and the library would move from the historic building at 30 Martin St.
The study will evaluate the merit of continuing to use the current public safety building to house the police and fire departments, and if so, provide an estimate of the cost to bring it into conformance with modern codes.
A similar evaluation will be done of the current Town Hall/library building exploring how much it would cost Essex to continue using the building to house both municipal services.
The town's Long Term Planning Committee had strongly supported the feasibility study and feels as well that the group's concerns merit serious assessment, committee Chairman Mike Dyer stated in a letter to the Times Monday.
Voters Monday were also being asked to consider money for a drainage system aimed at alleviating perennial flooding in the basement of Police and Fire headquarters, installment of a new Centennial Grove wharf, and a "reverse 911" mass notification system.
Though the warrant contained some 23 articles, no action was taken on several of them, including a proposal to purchase a used ladder truck for the Fire Department and a new cruiser for the Police Department.
The meeting was continuing as of press time. For updated coverage, look to the Times online news site, gloucestertimes.com, today. For full coverage, look to Wednesday's print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestertimes.com.
Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3451 or email@example.com.