Greco, Prince Vie For Essex Planning Board Seat


The Essex Planning Board race this year brings Brett Prince up against incumbent Matthew Greco in the Essex Annual Town Election May 9. 

Now is not a low-intensity time for zoning in Essex.  Last year, Essex voters approved the town’s first-ever new zoning district, the Downtown Zoning District.  Voters also approved a two-year moratorium on changing property use from residential to commercial to allow time for comprehensive, town-wide planning.  At the same time, new commercial projects have prompted animated debates about zoning and concerns over aesthetic and environmental impact.  And most recently, the state’s 40A “MBTA community” zoning requirement for housing density is a challenge that local boards, including the Planning Board, will face.

Both Greco and Prince say challenges like these are why they’re running for a seat on the Planning Board. 

Prince, a marketing executive in the medical field, moved to Essex in 2018 with his wife and now six-year-old daughter for work. Prince began attending and participating regularly in a variety of boards and committee meetings—BOS, Conservation Commission, School Committee, and the Planning Board.  As an abutter to the proposed construction of a cell phone tower in the woods off Eastern Avenue, a contentious issue unsuccessfully fought with boards and at last year's Annual Town Meeting, Prince was personally impacted by zoning.  Currently, he is part of an abutters group that is suing the Town of Essex, specifically the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board.

If he's voted in, Prince said he'd recuse himself from anything involving that project.  

"As an abutter, I need to recuse myself of all matters related to the site in question, should I be elected to the board," he said.

Incumbent Matthew Greco has lived in Essex for 15 years ago with his wife, Danielle, who grew up in Essex, and the couple's two daughters, now eight and six years old.  He is a project scheduler for infrastructure-level construction and engineering projects (think roads and bridges) who in the last 17 years has worked with the Massachusetts Dept. Of Transportation, MASSPORT, and others. 

Greco points to several areas of success while serving on the Planning Board since he won his seat in 2017, starting with the positive and productive working relationship he has with fellow members of the board.  He also points to adjustment to the Water District Resource definitions as an accomplishment.  Changes to regulations of public signage is another. 

But perhaps the biggest area of success for Greco is the successful planning and approval of the Essex Downtown Zoning District, the first new zone in the town’s 200+ year history.  It will define and regulates the commercial downtown district with mixed-use buildings, and is widely seen as the centerpiece to the town's future ability to grow revenue, and attract new businesses that will build upon the town's successful seasonal local economy. 

The new district passed at last year’s Annual Town Meeting after years of planning.  Since then, the Planning Board has been working with the Board of Selectmen and the Economic Development Committee on a comprehensive examination of the town bylaw with Essex Town Planner Dana Menon and grant-funded consultants from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). 

Greco said the biggest reason he’s running for another term is to ensure the board’s continuity of experience, which he said is especially critical for success right now.  He’s proud of the work he’s done so far as part of the board, and he wants to see that work through to the next stage, when the board and the BOS will solidify recommended zoning focus areas and begin clarifying Essex’s future zoning, whether that means establishing new districts or simply adding value and clarity to the ones that already exist.

“The work the Planning Board has done so far with the BOS and others has been important to secure a better understanding of our bylaws and what recommended areas of focus could address our challenges,” said Greco. 

Brett Prince sees his opportunity with the Planning Board in boosting the role of public input on the board.  He also believes clarity is critical for many residents and businesses in Essex who often don’t understand what they can do with their properties, even before current bylaw changes are being considered because he feels the rules are unclear and so is enforcement.  Clarity on rules that govern what can be built, and where will help residents and businesses, he said.

The key, said Prince, is planning and managing rules carefully and meeting housing and revenue challenges without losing the magic of what Essex what it is: a small community with a diversity of people, occupations, and businesses.

Prince believes engagement should be welcomed by boards earlier in the process.  And if they don’t get engagement, the boards should proactively reach out to residents and businesses to understand how they feel, what they want, and secure ideas for how to meet goals.  He says any board considering changes or new initiatives, especially the Planning Board, should not just “ask for input” or deploy a survey, he said.  They should also actively seek out interviews and probe residents and businesses for how they think and feel, or what tangible ideas they have that can be brought back for board consideration.

Earlier this year, MAPC completed a survey of 400 people in Essex to determine what residents and businesses are looking for from zoning, the bylaw and planning for Essex.  Later next month, MAPC will deliver its first report with general recommendation areas.

Greco says now is a very important time for the role of the Planning Board.  Experience, both professional and experience working within municipal board process with confidence, is key.

“That depth is important,” said Greco, who points to his five successful years on the board as a very important element to continuity, at a very critical time.  “Understanding a town process is a challenge.  It’s part of the reason that a five-year term on this particular board is really important.”

One thing both Prince and Greco agree on is that Essex is facing a future that requires lots of planning, and lots of money.  New infrastructure, big initiatives like dredging, coastal resilience and rising water levels, a new elementary school building all cost money, a lot of it.  Attracting and keeping a good mix of businesses and residents—young and old, along all income levels—takes planning. 

And the Planning Board will certainly be central to all that.

matthew greco, planning board, board of selectmen, conservation commission, prince, a marketing executive, dana menon, town planner, metropolitan area planning council, zoning district, essex planning board