EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a corected version of this story, clarifying Mr. Seppala's comments.
ROCKPORT — Members of the town's new Cape Ann Tool Company Task Force on Thursday laid out a number of options Rockport could use to force some progress on the derelict former industrial site, from buying the property to working with the owner to speed the building process.
In September, Town Meeting voted to have selectmen look into acquiring the property, either to tear down the buildings and then sell or to retain for public use.
The task force was formed to look into those two options, explore having the town work with the owner — Christopher Kaneb's Old Colony Maritime LLC — or have the town condemn the buildings, which would allow the town to tear them down without having to get the title to the property.
"The owner has already indicated that he is willing to sell to the town," said Wally Hess, the Finance Committee's representative on the task force. Hess said the laborious and costly eminent domain process was unnecessary because eminent domain exists to force an owner to sell to the town. The town, he said, already has a willing owner with whom to negotiate.
Marie Larsen, a task force member who lives near the old Tool Co. site in Pigeon Cove, said she understands that the amount the owner is willing to accept for the property — actually three parcels that have been dormant for more than 25 years — is around $3.5 million.
"I think he would work with the town" to sell the property for less than the quoted price, Larsen said.
"(Kaneb) said if the town wanted to buy it, it would go at a significant discount, because the town would take on the various exposures he has," said Hess.
The assessed value for the property, including the buildings, is $1,362,400, according to the town's tax assessment for the site.
Old Colony Maritime LLC's property tax bill was $13,692 this year. If a planned development of a condominium complex with 22 units — the residential piece of Kaneb's initial proposal — goes forward (and with the improved economy several of the task force members thought it would), the town could take in close to $250,000 per year in property taxes, according to town projections.
Though the debate over the site has been going on for several years, the permits allowing Kaneb to build the condos are still valid, with the first expiring Nov. 28, 2012.
Peter Bergholtz, the Zoning Board of Appeals' representative on the task force, said the board could give the owner an extension on the permit to allow construction to begin. But it would not be able to extend the variances, without holding more public hearings and restarting the permitting process. Those variances, he said, expire Jan. 1, 2013.
The permits would have expired in 2010 if not for a state law passed that same year that gave permit-holders two more years to begin work because of the difficulty of getting financing during the recession.
If the permitting process starts again, it would, according to Bergholtz, "open the door to you-know-who," referring to Stevan Goldin, the environmental activist whose legal challenge to the Cape Ann Tool Co. development held up the project for several years. The complaint has since been dismissed in the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
Goldin isn't the only person who might object to the plan to build condos on the Cape Ann Tool Co. site.
Task force member Zenas Seppala said "the best way to deal with the property, to my mind, isn't residential condominiums," though he supports other aspects of Kaneb's project that would bring in substantial revenue for the town.
But Marcia Siegel, a Pigeon Cove resident who sat in on the meeting, expressed her discomfort with the plan.
"I don't think the only value of the land is money," Siegel said.
The task force will not meet next week because of the holidays, but will meet every Tuesday at 10 a.m. in Town Hall after that. The meetings are open to the public.
Stephanie Bergman can contacted at 978-283-7000 x3451 or firstname.lastname@example.org