Rockport Town Meeting gave the first green light to issuing a single license for a grocery store to sell beer and wine — a move some residents and officials said would encourage a store to fill the former IGA building.
Town Meeting on Monday night approved all but one of the 36 warrant articles, backed the town's $29 million budget without a change, and concluded by 10:45 p.m.
The 295 voters attending also approved putting $2 million in capital improvement projects, but shot down a motion from the floor to rekindle discussions about a municipal purchase of the Cape Ann Tool Company site.
While previous questions regarding alcoholic beverage sales have drawn intense debate, Monday night's warrant article asking Town Meeting to forward the beer and wine market sales on to the state Legislature drew fewer than a handful of votes in opposition.
"You have to have beer and wine because that's the only way (a grocery market) is going to work," said Henry Koski, a Rockport resident and retired employee of Crosby's Market in Manchester.
A small store that would fit in the IGA building would need beer and wine sales to be profitable, he said.
Grocery stores, Koski said, make about a 1 percent margin on standard groceries, but they make a 35 percent profit margin on beer and wine sales.
Selectman Paul Murphy agreed. The license would help draw a store to fill the IGA building, he said. The IGA closed in January 2011, and the landlord hasn't had any takers for the space, yet.
"It has become clear that, in order for a store to be profitable (at that site) it is necessary to sell beer and wine," Murphy said.
Having a store there, Murphy said, would benefit the community and its elderly residents.
Some residents, though, had a few concerns about the license.
Laurie McKenna said at the meeting that the article could use some specifics regarding how much of the store's floor space could be devoted to alcohol sales.
"I wouldn't consider a store that sells (alcohol) but only keeps 50 percent of its floor space for food," McKenna said.
The motion passed with a handful of residents opposed, and if approved by the state, the license will head to a referendum vote.
Town Meeting passed the $29,317,088 fiscal 2013 budget unchanged. The coming year's budget is a 3.1 percent increase over fiscal 2012.
The increase, though higher than 2.5 percent increase allowed by Proposition 21/2, didn't require an override. Last year's tax level didn't hit the levy limit, and left the town space to increase taxes.
Activist Toby Arsenian moved that the town reduce funding in two line items, both for the Economic Development Committee and Straitsmouth Island maintenance.
The meeting voted a $50,000 budget for the committee, a budget Arsenian said benefitted a small portion of the town's economy, and could be better spent elsewhere.
But committee member Lana Razdan said the money would go toward intelligently marketing Rockport for visitors.
Meanwhile, spending money on Straitsmouth Island, Arsenian said, made little sense. The Thatcher Island Committee, he said, told the town it would raise the money for repair of the island themselves, without town dollars.
"This is a thin end of the wedge proposal," he said.
Arsenian said that, if the town allowed the funding request, residents would be asked for more money later.
Both of Arsenian's motions, however, were voted down.
Town Meeting also approved $1.7 million in capital expenditures from the general fund, and water and sewer enterprise funds.
Only one article — a zoning proposal allowing an additional trailer on a property — was shot down.
Voters turned thumbs down on the article down because of concerns over setbacks.
The article would have allowed residents to put an additional boat or trailer on a lot, provided it met setback requirements. The first trailer, however, did not have to meet setback requirements.
Town Meeting voted to send the article back to the Planing Board for further study.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.