By Jesse Poole
More than 350 residents turned up for Monday night's Fall Town meeting and approved nearly everything, from increased tax on local inn and hotel rooms to amending a few of the town's zoning By-laws, to, of all things, the final approval to purchase the town a wood chipper.
In fact, the town rejected only one article, which would have given dogs summer access to the town's beaches.
But while many issues were put to rest, but for one key issue, the debate has not ended; in fact, it's restarting.
The petition article dealing with the planned razing of the former Tool Co. building — divided Monday night between a motion by one initial petitioner, Marie Larsen, and another by Toby Arsenian — was essentially set aside to be worked out and addressed at Rockport's annual Town Meeting next April.
After reading her original petition, Larsen made a motion for the town to singularly fund the destruction of the building, without purchasing the property; Arsenian re-petitioned to buy the land.
But, after hearing several good questions, the Board of selectmen made a third motion to wait upon the matter, further studying the situation and to bring it up again when town voters gather once again on the spring. And. after a motion to amend at simply pushing a decision back 90 days was rejected, residents voted to give the selectmen more time to study the issue and the town's options.
According to resident Terry Duffy, it would have been irresponsible to rush the board into a 90-day rush of difficult investigation and decision making. Duffy advocated for waiting till Spring.
"They want leadership — for the board to come and step up, to fill in the gaps and better answer the questions," Selectman Sandy Jacques said Tuesday, "and that's what the board will do ..."
A few of the initial questions about taking immediate action on the property included: Who will pay for the clean-up? What if the destruction brings on an unhealthy environment? Is Christopher Kaneb, owner of the property, even on board? Why can't the town order it's destruction for safety reasons — without permission from Kaneb?
How much would it really, really cost the town? Could the property accidently turn into a similar scenario to that of Gloucester's I-4, C-2 lot, the future of which the city is still struggling to figure out?
"I'm confident that this is the No. 1 issue facing the town," said Selectmen Paul Murphy.
Indeed, Article I was the hot topic issue of the night; after the decision was made, some 250 people left the school's auditorium, leaving with fewer than 100 people in attendance.
That smaller group of residents, then voted on Article C: to increase the town's local hotel/motel rooms tax from 4 to 6 percent.
The article received the endorsement of both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee.
Earlier in the meeting, the town voted against Article N, a petition article to amend the time and dates dogs can be on the beach, giving dogs more time to play in the sand and water.
Murphy said there are plenty of other places to walk dogs in Rockport, and that the increase of beach time for dogs could also increase the health hazards for beach bathing and, in tern, decrease tourist's motivation for visiting Rockport.
"...That was 'ruff,'" Town Moderator Bob Visnick observed after the vote, drawing laughter from the gathering.
Among other decisions, was the approval of Article G, concerning transfers of money from the Community Preservation Fund to seven respective purposes.
As all the purposes were approved, the third purpose sparked the most debate and questions.
That allocation involved extending $275,000 to Supportive Living Inc., a nonprofit that plans to build an eight unit facility for those with brain injuries, up in the Halibut Point area.
"There's a great need for homes for adults with their conditions," said Noonan. "We've had success in other communities and these residences are not disruptive in any way."
According to Peter Noonan, executive director, the organization operates such homes in Woburn (16 residents), Lexington (15) and North Reading (8).
"The Old Farm Inn is a beautiful spot," he added, "and we feel we can create a good program there."
Noonan said that, without such homes, many younger adults — ages 22-44 — must live in nursing homes.
Several residents at the meeting, including Toby Arsenian, stated their concern about whether the sewerage system can sustain such a project.
But Noonan said the plan would work and the appropriate measures would be taken.
Arsenian also expressed his concerns for the home's location, due to its harsh winter environment and the thought that some people who are disabled may find it difficult to get around at Halibut Point.
Noonan said that, though there are many different degrees of mental disabilities. The folks who tend to stay in the organization's homes are on the higher levels of needed assistance, meaning they won't necessarily walk around without some sort of help or supervision.
The town ended up supporting the appropriation of the funds to Noonan's project.
In addition to the other 19 articles, three of them entailed amending the town's zoning bylaws.
The meeting adjourned at nearly midnight.
"It was a long meeting," Murphy said, "but it was productive and the business of the town was taken care of.
"The board was certainly pleased with the attendance," he said, "and glad that voices were heard."
Jesse Poole can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3447, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.