Given the public debate over the long-defunct Cape Ann Tool Company these past eight months, and given town Building Inspector Paul Orlando's longstanding proclamation that the site somehow poses no danger to public safety, a vote to give property owner Christopher Kaneb and his Old Colony Maritime LLC the right to tear down the decrepit smokestack for safety reasons might be seen as a significant step forward.
Similarly, a move to trim the number of affordable housing units, and, even more importantly, move them off the property to another, yet-to-be-named site, seems like an issue worthy of community discussion, don't you think?
Well, Rockport's Zoning Board of Appeals didn't think so.
In fact, board members last week thought so little of the changes — and of what residents might have thought of them — that they approved them as "minor" changes to the permits Kaneb holds and will retain until November for the Tool Company site. In so doing, they have once again raised the shady specter that has hovered over Rockport's town government for years — that too many town officials and other perceived insiders are going to do what they want, regardless of any town consensus. And that's especially the case when it comes to land-use and building issues.
Is there a context for granting Kaneb the chance to tear down the smokestack? Of course. While it once again openly questions Orlando's safety judgment, it should be a good step toward readying the property for sale or for development by Kaneb, if indeed he's even still interested — and even he said last month he had moved on to pursue other interests.
But allowing the now two — instead of three — affordable housing units to be built off site is another matter, and can pose any number of problems if this still-permitted project ever goes forward.
Zoning Board Chairman Charles "Bill" Christopher suggested that "we, as a board, are very conscious of public thought."
That might be true. But in this case, he and his Zoning Board colleagues chose not to seek any public input at all. Claiming that neither of the changes fit the bill as "major" changes that would have required a public hearing, the town's board simply gave Kaneb the rubber stamps he wanted — with no "public thought" in sight.
That's a shame.