GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 8, 2013

Charting the future of Conomo Point

Essex voters back new district, KO legal funds

BY JAMES NIEDZINSKI
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — With 268 residents at the Monday night’s Annual Town Meeting, voters deliberated for 3 1/2 hours on 17 of the 41 articles, with the meeting carrying into a second night on Tuesday.

But voters Monday night approved a new zoning bylaw that allows for the subdivision of 22 Robbins Island Road and Beach Circle properties on a tally of 194-97.

Opponents of the article cited the lack of a clear overall Conomo Point plan approved at a town meeting, increased costs of selling the lots, environmental concerns and preserving the properties for the town. And just seconds after the votes were counted, Stuart Pratt presented a motion to reconsider the article, but that motion failed.

“They are not looking at environmental considerations, fiscal considerations, or land use considerations,” said resident Maria Burnham.

Resident Bruce Fortier said he thought the town was receiving more bad financial advice from officials, adding the financial gains would benefit the town.

“Within 10 years, it will all be spent,” he said of the money gained from any future sales approved at central Conomo Point.

But supporters of the article said the sale of the central district, which can be carried out with the area subdivided, is the most financially sound way to meet the state Department of Environmental Protection’s mandate to get Conomo Point using under 10,000 of gallons of waters per day, complying with the Title 5 septic system guidelines.

“We simply cannot afford to remove homes and turn this property over,” Selectmen Lisa O’Donnell said.

Mark Lynch, who chairs the Conomo Point Planning Committee, said there is a full plan for Conomo Point which involved much public participation.

“After years and discussion and deliberation, this plan is the best use of our asset,” he said. “A master plan is a living, breathing, changing document.”

Lynch added master plans are typically not voted upon by the town as a whole. Any plan voted upon at a town meeting would likely lock the plans in place.

The plan calls for incremental improvements throughout a 10-15 year period around all of Conomo Point.

Coviello noted the officials might not suggest to sell at 22 lots, but the possibility does exist.

Officials also noted that a private property owner controls much of the waterfront along Robbins Island Road.

While the subdivision would allow for the sale of the properties at the Annual Town Meeting next year, voters shot down Article 14, a $26,200 allocation to appraise the lots in central Conomo Point.

A number of residents were concerned with appraising the area before any vote was moved to sell the property.

“We don’t know the square footage, how can appraisals be done?” said Conomo Point Planning Committee member Mike Dyer. “It seems out of order.”

Town officials are able to move lot lines for the subdivision process.

Money was allocated to appraise the southern houses before they were cleared for sale at the previous town meeting, Selectmen Jeff Jones said.

Voters also failed to approve adding $100,000 of free cash to the Conomo Point legal budget for fiscal 2013. Voters approved $100,000 to the town’s law firm Kopelman and Paige at 2012’s Annual Town Meeting and another $50,000 during a Special Town Meeting last year.

The article had 119 voters against the allocation and 101 in support of it at Monday’s meeting.

Article 12, which would have allocated funds for final construction plans for waterfront access at northern Conomo Point, also failed by majority.

After much deliberation, a citizen petition that would have authorized the sale of three quarters of northern Conomo Point and set aside the rest for a park also failed to gain the needed votes for approval.

Tom Demeo, one of the citizens who helped write the article, conceded it did not involve public input, but he was merely presenting a new plan for the town to discuss.

“We have a situation where we have a proposal by the town and we only have one option,” he said.

“This motion is calling for something that is physically impossible,” Fortier said of the citizen petition article.

If passed, northern Conomo Point would have had to have been subdivided and sold. Without subdivision, the north is treated as one parcel of land.

Outside of Conomo Point, voters reauthorized revolving funds for the Animal Control officer as well as the Board of Health.

Residents also allocated money to the North Shore Regional Vocational School District, which boasted a zero percent increase in its operation budget, according to district representative George Harvey.

Voters took up the remaining articles on the warrant Tuesday night. For more updates and coverage, check today online at gloucestertimes.com.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.