GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 11, 2013

Town officials push for Conomo zoning district

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — The town’s selectmen and Planning Board are discussing a bylaw amendment that would designate Robbins Island Road and Beach Circle as central Conomo Point, and would make them eligible for sale.

But Planning Board officials say their concerned about the timing of the proposed bylaw, with Town Meeting looming in the weeks ahead and the warrant due to be set this week.

”Once again, (selectmen) seem to be putting the cart before the horse,” said Planning Board member Westley Burnham, adding that the board had much more time to discuss and reword a similar article that allow the subdivision of southern Conomo Point.

During a board meeting last week, selectmen and other town officials presented the proposed bylaw amendment. The amendment would be the first step toward allow the sale of properties at Beach Circle and Robbins Island Road, if voters back the sales at a later Town Meeting.

The town held three public forums to discuss plans about northern Conomo Point. Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said Friday that during these sessions, it became clear that residents did not want to sell any land in the north.

However, Bruce Fortier said Friday there was no public input on Robbins Island and Beach Circle sales; the public forums were held to discuss plans for northern Conomo Point. Fortier has previously filed complaints with the state Inspector General’s office about the legality of previous town votes.

According to preliminary numbers presented by the town’s Finance Committee during one of the forums, the town stands to gain about $8,278,000 if the 25 properties are subdivided and voters recommend their sale; about half of that being profits after the town carries out up to $4 million in infrastructure work.

As with Southern Conomo point, the new owner of any property in central Conomo Point would have year-round access, but only for their specific term of ownership, Zubricki said. After that, the property would revert to seasonal use.

The proposed bylaw change indicates that seasonal use would be between April and October, while other uses include non-commercial storage space, home occupations and municipal and recreational park space. The home occupation permits regulate that there shall be no external sale of goods or services, only one commercial vehicle will be parked at the property and no more than one employee who does not reside in the building would be allowed.

Karin Gertsch, who was at last week’s meeting, had some concerns about the proposed article.

Gertsch, Fortier and other residents have referenced the 1999 Annual Town Meeting, at which voters backed a decision not to sell any waterfront property.

”These boards continue to disregard the voice of the voters,” she wrote in an email to the Times. She said voters should not rush into selling any land.

Town officials previously said later Town Meeting votes changed the 1999 decision, and that the 1999 vote was non-binding.

Fortier, however, disputes this.

In a revised statement issued in April 2011, selectmen recommended selling central Conomo Point, as the area has less waterfront access.

“The Board’s recommendation is to retain for long-term leases the properties in areas best suited to potential water front access, and to sell the properties that are less likely to support waterfront access, such as Robbins Island, Beach Circle and south portions of the north area,” the document reads.

In another statement released in May 2012, the selectmen reasoned the sale would be the best way to meet the state Department of Environmental Protection mandated reduction in waste water flow.

A similar article was proposed at Town Meeting last year, but it was rejected. That article would have divided the northern half of Conomo Point, and was not recommended by the Planning Board.

Officials noted that one Robbins Island Road property sits on both town and privately owned land and the owner controls the waterfront.

Zubricki said the issue first came before town officials in early 2012, and it is being discussed as to whether it should be approved for year-round use.

“It depends on which side of the house you stand on,” he joked last week.

A public hearing about the proposed bylaw is set for March 20 at 8 p.m. at the Essex Elementary School.

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