ESSEX — When Essex voters opened their special Town Meeting Monday night, their first conclusion was to agree that excluding the town from state bidding mandates would allow for honoring tenants' rights of first refusal if the town attempts to sell or lease any portion of the land at Conomo Point.
Those addressing the packed crowd at Essex Elementary School included state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.
"This process, as with many in government, takes time," Tarr said. "If it's your will, this petition needs to begin sooner rather than later."
Town Meeting's approval of the Conomo Point exemption came with an amendment that any attempt to lease or sell property at Conomo Point would be carried out by selectmen in accordance with procedures laid out in a bylaw to be created by a future Town Meeting.
The vote to give selectmen the green light to seek the state exemption came amid ongoing debate over how the town should handle the Conomo Point properties and their residents' leases when they expire at the end of next year.
Officials emphasized, however, that Monday night's vote did not authorize any such sales or new leases, which would have to go to a full annual Town Meeting for approval.
The town's legal counsel noted Monday that the town's obligation to honor the right of first refusal expires along with the leases on Dec. 31, 2011.
The exemption, Selectman Chairman Ray Randall and other officials have said, would give the town needed flexibility as it seeks to nail down its options regarding the Conomo site. The towns request for an exemption will need the state Legislature's approval.
"There is nothing the Board of Selectmen can do at any time to go around you," Randall told Essex residents. "We're not trying to sell your land out from under you."
That's exactly what some residents, including Bruce Fortier, believe the selectmen are planning to do.
Fortier said the selectmen have been trying to overturn the 1999 Town Meeting vote that called on the town to retain ownership of the entire property.
Randall has indicated that maintaining ownership of all of Conomo Point could cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue.
A consolidated Conomo Point "procedures calendar" handed out to voters Monday showed that selectmen plan to seek Town Meeting approval of bridge leases at annual Town Meeting next May and authorization to sell the area south of Robbins Island Road at annual Town Meeting in 2012.
Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.