ROCKPORT — The Rockport Planning Board has opted to bypass a formal public meeting regarding the demolition of Cape Ann Tool Company's smokestack.
Christopher Kaneb of Old Colony Maritime LLC, owner of the Granite Street building in Pigeon Cove, had intended to leave the smokestack standing in his plans to build a complex of condominium units with some additional retail space.
But, according to a study by O'Connell Engineering Inc., the structure would require many expensive repairs over time and in order to be safe, the top 15 feet of the stack would need to come down.
That study prompted Kaneb to request permission to demolish the smokestack, first from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which controversially approved the change but termed the revision "insubstantial," so as not to require a full public hearing.
The Planning Board then voted 4-1 Thursday to also approve the revision as insubstantial, and therefore allowing its approval of the demolition without a public hearing.
The lone dissenting voter on the Planning Board, Frederick "Ted" Tarr, said Friday he and others were not angry about the actual demolition, but about the public being denied a chance to speak at a hearing.
"It's the principal of it," Tarr said. "People wanted to be able to express their opinions. They want to protect their right to be heard."
Tarr said there had never been a formal public discussion about the smokestack's demolition before because it had never been a viable possibility. He said the lack of discussion may speed up the process, but has impugned on the public's rights and left him and others with unanswered questions about the project.
"I think they just want to get it over with, as we all do," Tarr said, "but you have to follow the process."
Planning Board Chairman Hank Betts said the public had opportunities to speak at past hearings and some spoke about the smokestack. Betts said concerns about the smokestack could have addressed then.
"Though we didn't have a formal meeting, people had a chance to discuss it," Betts said.
The board never required Kaneb to maintain the smokestack, but specified that if he were to keep it, he must ensure it was safe, Betts said. Betts added that, if people wanted the smokestack to stay, they should have requested originally that the Planning Board require it to remain.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't do public hearings, but quite frankly they should have been at that meeting in 2005 and tried to influence the Planning Board at that stage," Betts said.
Betts said with or without a public hearing, at least the top portion of the smokestack would need to be demolished in order to prevent it becoming a danger to people.
"It all comes down to the safety of the public," Betts said.
Because the smokestack demolition is deemed insubstantial, Kaneb cannot make any changes or additions to his plans to utilize that space and the demolition must be complete by the end of November, Betts said.
If Kaneb wants to expand or add on, that would be considered a substantial change, according to Betts.
The board briefly discussed the low income housing units required to accompany the new building, but did not move to require any action on the discussion. The Zoning Board of Appeals in May voted to reduce the number of low income units the company is required to build from three to two and to allow Kaneb and Old Colony Maritime LLC. to build the low income units at a separate site.
The Planning Board's approval was the last permission Kaneb needed before applying for a permit to demolish the smokestack.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.