Residents streaming into Essex's annual Town Meeting Monday night faced 40 articles on the warrant.
But they debated hardest right from the start over early articles aimed at deciding the future of the properties at Conomo Point.
Shortly after the meeting's 7:30 start, 352 residents had signed in to participate and cast their votes — just 12 days after an overflow crowd had also voted by a narrow 144-141 to once again seek an exemption from the state's bidding regulations with an eye toward giving Conomo tenants the first right to buy the properties they now lease. Both that meeting and Monday night's meeting were held at Essex Elementary School.
The early articles Monday night took up the issue of allowing the possible sale of the properties south of Robbins Island Road, with one article looking to authorize the selectmen to take any and all actions relating to the properties, and another eying a proposed zoning bylaw for Conomo Point.
The version contained on the warrant to start the meeting, however, has undergone enough significant changes so that the Planning Board did initially recommend its approval.
The issues brought out mixed reviews from residents as they took their seats.
"This has been considered for way too long," said resident Jamie Donovan, of Lufkin Point. He said the town has to take action and has spent more than enough time planning and considering.
Given the state Department of Environmental Protection's order to reduce septic flow at Conomo, the best course of action, he said, comes through selling properties on Conomo Point.
The town has to reduce septic flow there, and it can do it through sale or through knocking some of the properties down, he said; sale, he added, is the better option.
Other residents have disagreed.
In a letter that appeared online Sunday at gloucestertimes.com, resident Mike Dyer said he sensed many residents held that the town should not sell the properties at all.
"We suggest instead the continued leasing of all the property, both north and south Conomo Point, while the town takes a deep breath and puts in place a planning process that considers a full range of public and private land use options," Dyer wrote. "...I and others see the possibility of a middle path, wherein we remove some houses for river access and recreational facilities and retain the rest to ensure a continued revenue stream into the future."
The other Conomo Point articles on the warrant asked the town to approve money to make renovation to the properties, to cover maintenance and to pay a consultant to help with the properties, while also appointing a new members to the Conomo Point Planning Committee.
Beyond Conomo Point, the Town Meeting was to take up and expected to approve a proposed town budget of $15.6 million, and a $6.4 million assessment for the Manchester Essex Regional School District.
If necessary, town officials had also booked Essex Elementary School for a continuation of the Town Meeting at 7:30 tonight, but it was not clear as of presstime whether that option would be necessary.
For updates regarding that issue and for results of the voting, look later this morning to the Times' online coverage at gloucestertimes.com.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.