By James Niedzinski
---- — ESSEX — Just like boaters, the town’s proposed riverwalk project is steadily chugging forward along a part of the Essex River.
But the project does not have smooth sailing, and is drawing some concerns in a number of circles, notably through a business owner on the Main Street Causeway.
The project was supported by a feasibility study from Salem State University earlier this year; the town would need to take two liens out on private property for the riverwalk to be built.
Voters at the Annual Town Meeting backed an article allowing the town to take out easements on two properties, but Bing Gao, owner of the Riverside Bistro on Main Street, says he has some concerns about the project.
As the name suggests, patrons of the restaurant can sit on the back deck and enjoy the view of the Essex River. But riverwalk plans would skew the view of the river, as the boardwalk — and anyone who uses it — would run parallel to the back deck of the Riverside Bistro.
Gao said that, after speaking with customers about the proposed plans, many of them do not want their view obstructed by riverwalk passers-by.
”They don’t like it,” he said.
There is also a concern for the construction of the riverwalk and how it will affect the bistro’s business.
Waitress Sandy Southall said the restaurant has the customers’ best interests in mind.
”That’s just our major concern,” she said.
Gao also said that initial discussions and plans showed the riverwalk being lower than the deck of his restaurant, not at the same height.
An easement would also be taken out on Perkins Marine, but its owner has not brought any complaints forward to town officials as Gao did.
Gao said he had no problems with the project continuing on the opposing sides of the property, as long as it does not run along the deck.
The town has since submitted an initial proposal to the Seaport Advisory Council to fund the project. From there, town officials will meet with Seaport Advisory Council members to tell them more about the project. That’s where Gao’s concerns will be outlined, according to Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki.
The Board of Selectmen have also posed questions about the SAC funds, asking, for example, whether the state money would expire if the riverwalk was not built all at once, chairman Jeffery Jones said.
”I can see his point, it’s definitely a concern,” Jones said, “(but) we’re still interested in moving forward, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.”
Questions have also been raised by resident Bruce Fortier as to whether the project itself conflicts with town bylaws
The Wetlands Overlay District was created to preserve the potential water supplies, protect the town from costs which could be incurred when unsuitable developments are built in swamps, marshes and wetlands, and conserve natural conditions for wildlife, open spaces for education and general welfare of the public, Fortier says. Land filling or dumping, constructing buildings or other structures, dredging and permanently storing materials or equipment are prohibited in wetlands unless otherwise stated in the town bylaws.
However, the town bylaws also list “outdoor recreation including play and sporting areas, nature study, boating, fishing and hunting (where legally permitted), footpaths and any non-commercial recreational use,” among of the permitted uses.
Ultimately, after consulting the town’s Building Inspector and town counsel Kopelman and Paige, town officials say they see no conflict with the town bylaws.
”Counsel has commented that such a project is permitted since it constitutes a ‘non-commercial recreational use’, which is one of the exemptions,” according to one of Zubricki’s recent weekly reports. “The Building Inspector is in general agreement with Town Counsel and will provide more specific commentary when an actual application comes before him.”
The project also has the backing of the Essex Merchants Group.
Should the Seaport Advisory Council chose to fund the 10-foot-wide timber walkway, it would cost about $1,020,045, according to the feasibility study released in April.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.