Essex TA Report| Feb 17


Board of Selectmen’s Meeting of February 6, 2023

Report covers from January 21, 2023, to February 3, 2023

Route 133 Essex River Bridge Replacement Project Update

As reported previously, the contractor had left the job site for the winter at the end of the week of January 9, 2023, after tying in the Town’s sewer crossing over the new bridge on January 10, 2023.  National Grid continues to work on gas line relocation/replacement to align with the new bridge and is expected to be in that process through late-February (schedule has slipped).  For about three of the four weeks of gas line work, traffic will be limited to one lane.  However, the contractor does not expect any significant one-lane traffic impositions between the end of the gas line work and the end of the project.  Also, although preliminary discussions were focused on getting traffic moving over the new bridge by the spring, the contractor mentioned that the opening of the new bridge will be dependent on when work is resumed, which may be later than initially anticipated.  The contractor may be able to resume work by early March.

Allen Property Boarded and Fenced for Public Safety

The Board recently determined that funding that had been set aside by Town Meeting in the past should be used to board up two dilapidated former residences and to fence off a garage and shed (both which appear to be structurally unsound) at the Allen properties on Southern Avenue.  The Town is presently in the process of taking the properties for unpaid taxes and will likely auction the properties off after the taking has been completed.  Even though the Town does not yet own the properties, the Building Inspector and the Fire Chief recommended these precautionary measures to protect public health and work is almost complete.  The Fire Department and the Police Department conducted interior sweeps of both houses before the boarding up process was allowed to begin.

Further Discussion with Respect to Town Hall Bell Tower Roof Repair

At the Board’s meeting of January 9, 2023, Chairman Pereen indicated that she was working to line up a roofing contractor to repair the storm damage to the bell tower roof on Town Hall.  She has now had the chance for several contractors to look at the job and will be able to update the Board on what is required and what is recommended.

Final Fiscal Year 2024 Regional School District Operating Budget Hearing

Mr. Zubricki attended the subject hearing on January 24, 2023, along with the members of the Board, the Town Accountant, members of the Finance Committee, and many officials and personnel from the Town of Manchester and the Manchester Essex Regional School District.  The hearing contained a presentation made by the District’s Superintendent and its Business Agent.  A central question Essex officials have, is related to a proposal for the district to ask the two towns to both seek an operating budget correction via Proposition 2 1⁄2 override and to seek athletic field renovation costs via a Proposition 2 1⁄2 capital exclusion.

MassDevelopment/Cape Ann Communities Presentation

The Mayor of Gloucester hosted the subject presentation given by the State agency MassDevelopment (MD) on January 24, 2023.  The TA was in attendance along with Chairman Pereen, Economic Development Committee Chairman Harris, and several other officials and personnel from other area communities.  MD’s Northeast Team provided an overview of MD programs including traditional lending services, brownfield financing, collaborative workspace programs, real estate services, and other services.  MD also highlighted its new States Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), which provides matching financing (with private lenders) to qualifying small businesses and their Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program that funds energy efficiency and clean energy investments in commercial property.  At the meeting, all participants had ample opportunity to ask questions and make connections with various MD staff.  In Essex, the Board may want to explore the PACE program since it is something that the Town could put in place even if it is never utilized and it does not carry any risk for the Town.  Under PACE, the Town ends up assessing and collecting betterments via tax bills for commercial improvements (strictly as a passthrough), which gives a business up to 20 years to repay, with the debt running with the property.

Preliminary Draft of the Annual Town Meeting Warrant

At the last meeting, the Board agreed that the list of potential Annual Town Meeting topics had been organized sufficiently to see a preliminary draft of the warrant.  As such, the TA has put that document together for the Board’s review.

Possible Special Town Meeting to Consider Purchase of 31 Apple Street

As the Board is aware, the owner of 31 Apple Street has approached the Town with a right of first refusal for the purchase of the property.  Similar to 30 Apple Street (which the Town will soon own), 31 Apple Street was held in agricultural use and Chapter 61A of the General Laws requires that a right of first refusal be offered.  Given that the Town’s deadline to either accept or decline the offer occurs prior to the next scheduled Town Meeting (Annual Town Meeting of May 1, 2023), if the Board is interested in pursuing the purchase, a Special Town Meeting will be necessary to determine if funding will be appropriated.  Given the Board’s planned meeting schedule over the next few months, a Special Town Meeting could be held on April 10, 2023, just after the scheduled Selectmen’s meeting for that evening.  In addition, the Board will need to hold a public hearing on the proposed purchase, which could be accommodated at the Board’s next meeting, on February 27, 2023.

Possible Off-Season Occupancy of Seasonal Conomo Point Property

At the last meeting, the Board discussed information provided that suggested that an individual might be living in a seasonally restricted property at Conomo Point during the off-season.  The property at 5 Cogswell Road was initially purchased from the Town under an “installment sale” agreement that allowed the elderly resident to remain in the home on a year-round basis until that resident no longer resided there.  Simultaneously with the payoff of the installment agreement, a new owner was established, and the seasonal restriction took effect.  The Board asked that this matter be discussed with Town Counsel.  At this juncture, it is recommended that the Board send the property owner a warning letter reminding them about the seasonal restriction in the deed and inquiring as to what the owner’s off-season address might be.

Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Action Grant Monthly Report

Mr. Zubricki worked with our consulting engineer to develop and file the subject report pertaining to the Apple Street Roadbed Elevation and Culvert Replacement Project during the week of January 30, 2023.  The report featured discussion regarding the status of the design plans and the recent technical memo from our consultant with respect to public comment and Planning Board input.

Rural and Small-Town Development Fund Grant Application

At the last meeting, the Board agreed that the Town should collaborate with the YMCA to apply for capital improvement funding for the Centennial Grove.  The Economic Development Committee had recommended that improvements be made in order to maximize the value of the Grove to generate revenue for one-day event rentals.  The first step in the process is the submission of an Expression of Interest (EOI) through the Commonwealth One Stop for Growth Portal, which the Board authorized the Chairman to sign.  After collaboration with personnel from the YMCA and Chairman Pereen, the TA submitted the EOI to the State by the deadline of February 3, 2023.  The scope of the proposal outlined in the EOI includes such improvements as: new, central restrooms with flush toilets (served by tight tank) and new changing facilities; renovated and expanded restrooms with flush toilets (served by tight tank), potable water supply well, heating system, and general renovation for the lakeside cottage program space; general renovation of the large garage/program space; renovation or replacement of an existing dock adjacent to the public beach; new dock at the lakeside cottage; paving; site lighting; and handwash stations.

Continued Preparation for Federal Funding for Apple Street Project

At the last meeting, the Board agreed that specific easement packages for easements sought from all seven Apple Street Roadbed Elevation and Culvert Replacement Project abutters should be prepared and discussed with the abutters as soon as possible.  Our engineering consultant expects to have those available for us to distribute to project abutters during the week of February 6, 2023, and we will be forwarding when received.

The Board also agreed that the Town should apply for State funding via the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program to cover the portion of the project (10%) that Federal funding (90%) will not cover.  The MVP grant coordinator has been consulted about the Town’s potential application via the MVP Expression of Interest (EOI) process and we expect to have a more detailed discussion with MVP concerning our possible application by late-February.

Further, the Board asked that need for a scenic road hearing before the Planning Board be addressed with the Planning Board Chairman as soon as possible.  Our engineering consultant and Town Counsel will need to be involved in that hearing and our consultant expects to be ready to support the hearing relatively soon (presently preparing graphics that will help illustrate changes to stone walls and removal and replacement of trees).

Massachusetts Downtown Initiative (MDI) Placemaking Grant Update

Our State-assigned placemaking technical assistance consultant, Civic Space Collaborative (CSC), held a meeting on January 30, 2023, to review information collected to date, including a reflection on a recent tour through the downtown area. Chairman Pereen, Town Planner Dana Menon, Economic Development Committee Chairman Harris and the TA were in attendance, along with members of the Essex business community.  The MDI grant program has awarded the Town $25,000 of CSC’s time to develop a plan that will help unify the various public spaces in our downtown area to create a more cohesive “brand” and sense of place.  At the meeting, CSC laid out a variety of program areas that need to be considered.  The group agreed that an overall theme for cohesive landscaping required immediate attention, since the hope is to install new plantings in the downtown area this coming spring.

Urban Agenda Grant Off-Season Event Project Update

The Town’s event planning consultant, Civic Space Collaborative (CSC), has continued to pull together an off-season event that is designed to drive business to downtown Essex.  The Urban Agenda Grant is providing the Town with $51,000 for this event and CSC held a meeting on January 31, 2023, to update progress and to focus on the event in more detail. Chairman Pereen, Town Planner Dana Menon, Economic Development Committee Chairman Harris and the TA were in attendance, along with members of the Essex business community.  At the meeting, the group settled upon an event schedule of May 19-21, 2023, with promotion and related events starting earlier in the month.  The event will definitely have a spring theme and a final name for the event is in its final stages of development.

Town Administrator Leave

The TA was out of the office, on leave, on both February 2 and 3, 2023.

This report is available at on the morning after any regularly scheduled Essex Board of Selectmen’s Meeting.

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