By James Niedzinski
---- — ESSEX — With a number of legal battles still swirling around the status of the town’s Conomo Point properties, town officials are still going forward with the second of three scheduled planning forums, seeking input on residents’ view of Northern Conomo’s future.
The forum, slated for tonight at 7 p.m. in the Essex Elementary School Library, will involve more ideas and public input about the town owned land in northern Conomo Point.
James Heroux, principal design architect for the planning firm Brown Sardina, said this plan is very different from the first one presented in December.
“Many comments I received after the first presentation had to do with park space,” he said.
Heroux clarified the complexities of Conomo Point; while those live there want to maintain the seasonal homes on land they lease from the town, houses would need to be removed to create more park space.
The first plan, posted on the towns’ website prior to the forum, lays out three different options for house removal and its relation to park space. Near-term goals in the presentation include more public parking, improved signage and improved boat ramps.
Some long-term proposals include a town-owned function hall and a town-owned art center, similar to the The Gloucester Writers Center, Heroux said.
As a result of the state Department of Environmental Protection, septic system requirements — part of the Title 5 environmental health code — will also have an impact at Conomo Point.
To comply with the laws, the number of bedrooms in the north must be reduced from 150 to 90 — meaning that some residents will have to either move their house or have it taken down, no matter what Heroux presents.
Heroux’s plans indicate various levels of house removal, which would result in 1.44 acres to just over 7 acres of open and green space.
The plan with the most open space indicates that nearly 20 houses would be removed, more than 10 houses with reduced bedrooms and two re-purposed buildings; in addition to possible house revocations.
“There will obviously be some people who do not want their homes removed,” Heroux said.
Town resident Karin Gertsch said Wednesday that she is in favor of more open space, and is adamantly against any land being sold open space and and parks.
Resident Roy Turnage said the amount of public participation allowed has been inadequate, but has ackowledged this process cannot be easy.
“Creating a park at Conomo Point is a huge design challenge,” he wrote in a letter to the Times.
Turnage has suggested alternate methods of communication between residents, officials and Heroux.
Mark Lynch, a former selectman and chairman of the Conomo Point Planning Committee, said public quorum laws, especially with an online message board, complicate the issue.
Lynch said one resident did suggest an online forum which would allow a back and forth discussion.
He said that’s where the issue becomes “very challenging,” in terms of open meeting laws and First Amendment rights.
Talking time for residents tonight will be limited to two minutes; Lynch said this was due to the size and scope of the audience, noting that the last forum drew a about 175.
Lynch, however, stressed the importance of public input, as a third and final plan from Heroux’s Brown Sardina planning firm is set for February.
Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said about 80 properties in the north are currently being leased and the area will need to be appraised before any sales are considered at a town meeting.
The state’s deadline for Title 5 compliance in the north is December 2015.
Zubricki also noted any email comments, made through the town’s website are readily available for residents to view.
Heroux said Wednesday his predictions were realistic, but his goals remain to preserve the community and present creative park ideas.
”I think people who live out there will be predictably upset,” he said about house removal and possible relocation.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.