GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 19, 2013

Residents react to northern Conomo Point proposals

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — Residents packed into Essex Elementary School Thursday night for a demonstration of new proposals by planners with Brown Sardina, the design firm hired by the town.

James Heroux, an architect with the firm, noted the issue was a touchy subject.

But despite the sensitive nature, the two-hour presentation and question and answer period were civil, and people stayed within their two-minute talking periods and had relevant questions to ask.

Mark Lynch, former selectmen and chairman of the Conomo Point Planning Committee, listed being respectful and refraining from personal attacks as among the ground rules, before the presentation started. And while there was a flurry of written questions, residents were initially hesitant to ask questions about the plan, which calls for a reduction of bedrooms and thus the number of houses north of Robbins Island Road.

“This must be a first,” Lynch said, after a few moments of silence.

Heroux said his plans emphasized bigger, open and green space parks, based off feedback from the first forum in December.

The plan calls for the number of Northern Conomo Point bedrooms to be reduced from 154 to 90, according to the codes enacted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The Title 5 mandates regarding septic systems state the town must be in compliance with the anti-pollution standards by 2015.

Several plans proposed by Heroux opted to go under the 90 bedroom mark, in case the town decides to pursue any business ventures on Conomo Point.

“Why stop there?” asked resident Lori Henderson, referring to the 90-bedroom threshhold.

Henderson agreed with Heroux, saying that people who come to Conomo Point do so for the view, not to see the houses.

Lynch said that previous decisions by town officials opted to preserve as many houses as possible, staying close to the 90 bedroom limit.

In addition, Nicholas Cracknell, an outside consultant, said that any cottages that remain standing will only increase in value, as they would likely be located adjacent to a park and waterfront property.

Other proposals include upgrading the seawall surrounding the point, moving the roads closer toward the houses and expanding land out over the water, giving residents a better view along Clammer’s Beach.

As for the actual removal of houses or bedrooms, the process is still to be determined.

Lynch said there would be no “bedroom police,” as one written question asked.

Lynch said the town would be willing to work with the people who volunteer to have homes modified, moved, or taken down.

Some potential business ventures proposed by Heroux included boat rental kiosks, informational kiosks and boat storage facilities. The ultimate goal, he said, would be to create a passive park on Conomo Point — one for picnics, tossing Frisbees and other light, outdoor activies.

As for funding, Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said sales from southern Conomo Point — where the town is giving current residents a right of first refusal — could be used to develop a park. However, any use of the money would require a Town Meeting vote.

Town residents at the forum gave the proposals mixed reviews.

“It was a very well done plan, although I don’t agree with any of it,” said Robert Doane, whose family owns property on the southern end of Conomo Point. “Keep in mind it’s just a plan.”

Town resident Cynthia Cameron said the plan was well done, and described the previous plan in December as only a “necklace” of open space, she was in favor of a bigger park.

She said, however, that the small roads and limited space make the Sunday tradition of church services at Conomo Point difficult.

Lynch reiterated the importance of public input, as the Master Plan only has to be accepted by the Board of Selectmen. However, there must be a town vote to decide to act on anything within the plan.

The third and final public forum is slated for February, along with Brown Sardina’s formal recommendation to the Board of Selectmen.

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