ESSEX — A section of the proposed zoning code for Northern Conomo Point that calls for a hotel or inn on the town-owned land has stoked fears that town officials are scheming to build a resort on the Point, but town officials say the fear is baseless.
"We're certainly not trying to pave the way for a Mariott there," said Mark Lynch, chairman of the Conomo Point Planning Committee.
According to Lynch, the zoning rules that will come up for a vote at Essex's Annual Town Meeting on May 7 are simply an extension of the rules for the town at large, with some restrictions added for Conomo Point.
The language on the warrant for the Town Meeting town lists "hotel/ inn" as one of two principal permitted uses for property on Conomo Point, with the other listed as "seasonal cottages."
The prime restriction on any possible hotel on Conomo Point would be the one limiting the business to operating only between April 15 and Oct. 15. Other restrictions would include a limit of 20 or fewer rooms, and a requirement that the lot the hotel is built on be at least 12,000 square feet.
"There's a lot of hurdles you'd have to get over to run a hotel there," Lynch said.
Lynch cautioned that the zoning plan is not yet final, and that some things may change.
Conomo Point is a zoning oddity, with the town owning the actual land and residents claiming ownership of the structures built on the lots. The homeowners pay both property taxes and land lease fees, but town officials maintain the town also has ownership rights to the buildings as well.
The town is under pressure from the state Department of Environmental Protection over water and sewer issues on Conomo Point. In a statement, Essex selectmen have said that they plan to sell the properties to the current tenants, with the exception of some north of Robbins Island Road.
Tempers have run high on the Conomo Point issue, with some Essex residents claiming that Conomo Point residents are voting illegally in Essex town meetings and some Conomo Point residents saying that the town is attempting to force them off properties that have been in families for generations.
That fear was not eased by Selectman Jeffrey Jones describing a particular property to the Times as "very attractive" while town officials were preventing the transfer of the land lease from one owner to another.
Conomo Point has beautiful views, so pretty that Essex churches gathered there on Sunday to hold sunrise Easter services. Residents are convinced that outside developers would want to build a resort or other such project on the land and would force them out of their homes.
Lynch explained that no specific plans have been made for the town to sell any of the Conomo Point properties to people who would build hotels.
"No specific plans have been discussed," said Lynch.
Most of the Conomo Point properties are summer-only, though some of the tenants have permission to stay year-round.
Those tenants have to dig their own cisterns, since water only flows to Conomo Point during the summer, and those tenants would be allowed to stay year-round after the sales, while deed restrictions would limit new buyers and existing tenants who are currently summer-only to six-month residency.
Lynch said the point of leaving the hotel option in the zoning law is to make sure the town doesn't prevent anything it might later want.
"What we're trying to do now is lay the ground work, so we're not ruling anything out," said Lynch.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.