, Gloucester, MA

May 6, 2013

Editorial: Quality-of-life issues must be considered in Conomo choices

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — 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.”

But is it — really? Is the sole determining factor for the future use of Conomo Point solely the amount of money it can bring into town coffers?

It seems clear that many residents believe the future of Conomo Point is about much more than dollar signs and town revenues — that it is a quality-of-life issue for residents. And many of those residents don’t want their town to sell off their opportunity to finally enjoy town-owned waterfront access and a Conomo Point Park that could serve the community for years and generations to come.

If you live in Essex, and that’s what you think, be sure to make it out to Annual Town Meeting, beginning tonight at 7:30 at Essex Elementary School. The 11 Conomo-related articles on tonight’s warrant give you a better chance than ever before to cast your votes and make it clear to the selectmen what you want to see happen on what is clearly some of the town’s most valuable property.

This is your chance to weigh in on several Conomo Point articles and options — and ensure that the Point’s future serves the town’s residents for decades to come. Don’t sit by and let it pass.