When Essex voters sign in at the elementary school tonight — and probably tomorrow — to participate in their Annual Town Meeting, they will be faced with more than three dozen questions.
But 11 of them — six through citizens’ petitions — are rooted in single issue: the future of the Conomo Point. And it is indeed time both for residents to have their say and for town officials to listen to what they’re saying. For the truth is, that has not always been the case in the past.
With most seasonal Conomo residents’ long-term leases expiring at the end of 2011, the selectmen have extended so-called “bridge leases” covering a period of up to five years, at frighteningly higher rates. At the same time, town officials are working with first-refusal sale offers on other properties, all the while splitting the Point into northern and southern zones, with a controversial proposal for yet a third “central” zone on the warrant tonight.
But many residents continue to question as to whether the town should be looking at whether to sell much of the northern part of the Conomo Point land at all. And some are noting that, despite the years or debate and legal challenges, town officials still don’t have a single, comprehensive plan for the Point that’s based on legitimate local input at all. Indeed, even in pulling together a series of workshops regarding Conomo’s future in 2010, town officials and consultant Taintor & Associates sought residents’ input by invitation only.
Resident Bruce Fortier notes that the piecmeal plan moving forward at this point “isn’t the town’s plan, it’s the selectmen’s plan.” To a large extent, he’s right.
It is, of course, the selectmen and the Finance Committee who most recognize the financial boon that the sale of Conomo’s properties will bring the town. And in a letter sent to constituents in advance of tonight’s Town Meeting, the selectmen indicated that, “parks, waterfront access and other amenities and issues aside, Conomo Point is first and foremost a financial issue for the town.”