To the editor:
Many people in Essex are strongly opposed to articles in this year's Town Meeting warrant that would authorize the Board of Selectmen to sell south Conomo Point (Article 1) and rezone north Conomo Point (Article 2).
We appreciate the hard work the selectmen and the Conomo Point Planning Committee have done, but feel that these articles will lead to outcomes that do not reflect the will of the townspeople.
The 2010 town-wide survey by the Long Term Planning Committee (disclosure: I chair that committee) showed conclusively that the No. 1 concern of Essex citizens is the preservation of and access to our beautiful natural resources, the Essex River in particular. However, as the selectmen point out, there is not much agreement as to how to manage Conomo Point or as to what public access and facilities might actually look like there.
The crux of our opposition is that the selectmen's words and actions seem to point toward preservation of all houses on the Point, likely with preferential sales to the current tenants, a path that has been chosen without real consideration of alternatives.
Indeed, there is a full spectrum of opinion in town on the matter, from removal of all the houses on North Conomo Point to make all the land available for the public's use and enjoyment, to agreement with the idea that all the houses should be retained, to maximize revenue.
I and others see the possibility of a middle path, wherein we remove some houses for river access and recreational facilities and retain the rest to ensure a continued revenue stream into the future. By the way, the market-rate revenues produced by fewer houses out there would still be well above the depressed revenues that all of those houses produced for decades (in other words, we can have our cake and eat it too).
The selectmen insist that there is no connection between Conomo Point and current proposals to build new office and fire/police buildings, but it's hard to see how these issues aren't connected. Selling the public's land at Conomo Point is forever, whereas the buildings that sales revenues would contribute to have very finite service lives.
We suggest instead the continued leasing of all the property, both north and south Conomo Point, while the town takes a deep breath and puts in place a planning process that considers a full range of public and private land use options.
Yes, this will be difficult and, yes, it will require more attention than townspeople have previously given it. Consensus is probably impossible, but a compromise solution preserving revenues, providing waterfront access and recreational facilities, and addressing the Point's considerable infrastructure problems is certainly doable. The process that Articles 1 and 2 would put in motion seems to remove any thought of doing this.
The Selectmen suggest a small bore, incremental planning and implementation approach that takes advantage of abandoned property as it becomes available and allows us to "educate ourselves" as to what facilities we might want.
We respectfully disagree and point to the Planning Board's unanimous decision NOT to recommend the North Conomo Point zoning article, citing as one of their reasons the lack of a master plan.
Essexites: whatever your view of the matter, please be sure to attend Town Meeting Monday night at 7:30 at Essex Elementary School. Everyone's vote matters.
Indian Rock Lane, Essex