GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 11, 2013

Essex eyes more Conomo sales

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — EDITOR’s NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story. The projected infrastructure and capital costs for northern Conomo Point changes is $4 million. Due to an editing error, an incorrect figure was listed in the original story.

ESSEX — History books point out Conomo Point was likely named in honor of Agawam tribal Chief Masconomet — also known as Masconomo — who ceded Cape Ann land to colonists.

Now, current residents on northern Conomo Point feel they’re in a similar situation; they may have to move their houses — or reconfigure them — to comply with state Department of Environmental Protection standards, and perhaps even cede their claims of house ownership to the town..

Residents must confront the 90 bedroom limit set by the state DEP, as a majority of the houses on northern Conomo Point do not have proper septic systems installed. And the house ownership dispute between the mostly seasonal residents remains in the hands of Essex County Superior Court. So while three public forums were put in place to help determine how best to use the land and how to remove or reconstruct the houses, some said they came away from last Thursday’s final forum with more questions than answers.

The Conomo Point Planning Committee, along with the town’s hired consultant, Brown Sardina, recommended the areas of Beach Circle and Robins Island be sold.

Preliminary numbers presented by the town’s Finance Committee show the sales of the areas would bring in a net revenue of $8,278,000. After some $4 million in costs such as road construction, house demolition and beach improvements, the net revenue drops down to $4,258,000 during the first three-to-five-year phase of the Master Plan, officials said.

The recommendations to sell Beach Circle and Robbins Island go against the grain of 1999 Town Meeting votes to preserve as much waterfront property as possible for town ownership and public use.

However, Conomo Point Planning Committee chairman Mark Lynch noted that Robbins Island waterfront rights are held by one private landowner, not the town. He added that the 1999 Town Meeting vote was non-binding, and subsequent votes reversed it. Town officials have opted to retain as many houses as possible in northern Conomo Point, Lynch said.

Beyond the Robbins Island Road and Beach Circle sale proposals, one resident, Ann Cameron was in favor of the overall sale plans for the northern Conomo properties, but not the price tag associated with the capital improvements projected by town officials. Cameron cited other proposed capital expenses such as repairs to Town Hall and a new public safety building and the town’s contribution to the regional school district.

“We have to be aware of everything we have to take care of,” she said.

As to the rest of the northern Conomo properties, Karin Gertsch said she’s in favor of creating a town park on the site, under the town’s continued ownership and control. She also questioned the environmental impact residents have on northern Conomo Point. But she said she’s against leasing any property, noting that would only be more legal costs with more tenants.

”I think we should be done leasing,” she said.

Others echoed Gertsch’s concerns about the town leasing of the northern property.

”I don’t understand why we are leasing,” Thomas Demeo said, who was concerned about the fiscal and economic outcomes of leasing the remaining properties.

Others, however, praised the plan in its entirety.

Joe Brain said the space was a “priceless asset” and a great opportunity for the town.

Lynch said the Master Plan does not need to be placed on a warrant for a Town Meeting vote, but any action or allocation within the plan would require Town Meeting approval.

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