ESSEX — Next month's town meeting, regardless of vote, will mark a milestone in the Conomo Point planning project.
Articles regarding the future of the Point cover the first quarter of the nearly 40-article town meeting warrant, with the focus on the status of properties south of Robbins Island Road.
The first proposes a zoning bylaw in preparation for subdividing and eventually selling lots below the road. The second proposes a bylaw detailing the procedure for selling and possibly leasing the land, with both articles drawn from voter decisions at the November 2010 special town meeting.
The warrant's third article, if voted, will authorize the Selectmen, designated Conomo Point Commissioners, to sell land and enter into proposed bridge leases, to be renewed every year and not to extend five years.
A bridge lease would buy the town and residents — seasonal and permanent — up to five years to firm up any final plans involving the Point properties, officials say.
All of the proposals regarding Conomo Points future are coming to a head as the leases on the Point slide toward expiration at the end of the current year, and the town is not planning to renew the, except to explore the idea of the "bridge" leases.
"We've made progress," said former selectman Mark Lynch, the Conomo Point Planning Committee chairman, "but it's not enough to set the final plan."
The Selectmen and Planning Committee have agreed on the five-year cap, but are waiting on the state's Department of Environmental Protection to weigh in on the procedure.
Lynch said the bridge leases keep the town out of litigation, and would extend the town's revenue stream from the properties for the next few years. As it is, the town is poised to lose $110,000 in lease revenue at the end of the year, with a possible $450,000 hit in overall property tax revenue.
That loss in lease revenue marked a major reason for the town's request of an over $400,000 Proposition 2 1/2 override this year.
Without the leases, however, tenants in nearly 100 properties would not be allowed to stay in their houses after the leases expire in December. Selectmen's chairman Ray Randall noted that could also pose public safety issues in terms of police and fire coverage, if the properties became vacant.
Also complicating the Conomo Pint property status is the still-awaited state Legislature approval of a Chapter 30B exemption request filed by the town last year. Under Chapter 30B regulations, the town, as owner of the properties, would be bound by state bidding laws and would not be able to offer current tenants the right of first refusal, as town officials propose.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante helped write the town's exemption request, Randall said, and the bill is expected to go before the house in the near future, he said.
The Point Planning Committee has recommended that the town move forward in the process for zoning and selling the southern Point properties, but has not taken a definite statements regarding any potential sales or other options for the northern Point properties.
The March 14 committee report recommended the town retain ownership of the northern half, as it works out what to do with those properties and waterfront access.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3447, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.