Rockport’s Finance Committee, in a formal recommendation, is advising residents to vote down an increasingly controversial series of proposals on next Monday night’s Fall Town Meeting Warrant that would expand the town’s role in reviewing site plans for home demolition projects.
The proposals to establish a site plan review process for houses older than 100 years and drop the square footage of houses requiring site plan review from 6,000 to 4,500 feet would affect some 51 percent of houses standing in Rockport, according to the finance committee.
According to Rockport’s building inspector, Paul Orlando, a typical three-bedroom colonial with a full basement and two-car garage would require reviewing under the proposed rule, the recommendation document said.
Wally Hess, Vice Chairman of the finance committee, said the expanded site plan review could deter potential home buyers and renovators that the community needs to keep.
Rockport is losing about 400 residents annually, according to a finance committee study, reducing the town’s tax base.
“It’s not exactly opening a door or closing a door. It’s just another impediment,” Hess said. “It’s just another thing that holds people back, and I think that’s the unintended consequence, the most major one.”
Hess said the changes would also create extra work for the volunteer Planning Board members who conduct reviews, which include application reviews, site visits and public meetings.
“That’s an increase to their work,” Hess said. “It’s not like it’s an incremental cost. It’s just more work.”
Still, residents Mike Kenyon and Tom Stockton had petitioned the articles onto Town Meeting Warrant because, Kenyon said, site plan review gives residents a chance to be involved and get a heads-up on potential changes to the community – and to Rockport’s charm.
“It does provide some notice and a chance for people to weigh in. And, people of good will can find collaborative solutions that work for everyone, that’s the hope of site plan review,” Kenyon said. “It’s simply that, before the wrecking ball appears at the house, there’s some public discussion of the plans.”
The petitioners intend to amend the warrant article at Fall Town Hall meeting to review houses of 5,000 square feet or larger, narrowing the impact, according to Kenyon.
“This is about what Rockporters want for their future,” Kenyon said.
Though the finance committee said the site plan review could create a rocky future for the town, site plan review proponent Sam Colbourn, the longtime former Planning Board chairman, said site plan review activity could actually draw in home buyers and renovators.
“My own impression is the committee’s making a mountain out of a mole hill,” Colbourn said. “Will it make people go away? I don’t think so. I think people will appreciate that the town is trying to protect itself from unreasonable buildings. It’s not trying to protect itself from all buildings.”
Residents who would like to review the finance committee’s recommendation before the Sept. 10 Fall Town Meeting can find the document on the town’s website. A full letter to the editor on the committee’s recommendation also appears on Page 11 of today’s Times.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.