A group of Rockport elected officials and town employees met recently to discuss further plans for the development of the former Rockport Elementary School (RES) site at the corner of West and Commercial streets (Route 1), plans that may include adjusting the zoning district to allow workforce or affordable housing on the property in conjunction with retail space.
The informal working group, which was once referred to as the RES Committee, has been meeting over the past months to discuss the potential of developing the seven-acre lot, which is owned by the town.
Those present at the June 19 workshop were Select Board members Doug Cole and Debra Hall, Town Planner Bill Najpaeur and Administrative Assistant for Assessing, Codes and Planning Hannah Sisk. Aside from the press, no members of the public were present; the meeting was not listed on the calendar of the town’s website.
The meeting began with a summary of a May 29 workshop held at the Rockport Opera House, when residents were urged to offer their opinions on the future of the site, and give feedback on development options which align with the group’s four Principles of Development.
Those principles outline a development project that contributes to Rockport’s tax base and is aesthetically pleasing while maintaining some of the lot’s undeveloped or “green” space.
Cole said he felt that the four working principles were generally accepted by members of the public who attended the workshop, and there was a general agreement that a professional planner or community planner would need to be involved as any potential project moved forward.
In a summary of the meeting presented to the group by Sisk, it seemed the most important tenet of any development was that the RES site would be used in the future to: “foster community involvement and interaction. Many residents mentioned that it should be a place to celebrate the joining of the five Rockport villages....”
Those at the June 19 meeting proceeded to discuss plans to create a RFP or request for proposal for the property, which would then be sent to contractors following approval by the Select Board.
Cole brought with him copies of a draft RFQ for the site that he had prepared and presented at earlier meetings, but advised the press that the document was a rough draft and “not ready for prime time.”
Objectives identified in the rough draft include a mixed use/professional space along the front of Route 1 and West Street, and a residential housing area at the rear of the building; over the past months all group members have discussed the idea of some combination of retail and residential development, which may include buildings with stores on the lower level and condominiums above.
Najpaeur suggested that it may be advantageous for the group to submit a RFQ or request for qualifications to developers instead, which would allow potential builders to submit a general design and a sense of their “approach” to the project, but would allow the group to interview candidates before a more detailed design is submitted and a hiring decision is made. He added that the zoning district where the property is located could be modified through an “overlay zone” to increase the density of housing allowable at the RES site and on the property of neighboring landowners.
The group also discussed reaching out to abutting landowners to gauge a sense of their interest in being part of the overlay zone, the total acreage of which would be 8.26; two abutting landowners mentioned were Stuart Smith and Taylor Allen. (Read: Old friends propose new take on Rockport neighborhood: Workforce housing, gardens, and lots of children)
If a change in zoning was agreed upon – to allow more workforce or affordable housing to be built in the area – the town would then sell its development rights to the landowners:
“The Town would benefit financially from the sale of the development rights, the landowners would be allowed to create more dwelling units and therefore make more money. The increase in dwelling units would contribute to Rockport’s tax base,” said Najpaeur, adding that in so doing the RES site would become a community gathering site, which may include elements such as a farmer’s market, retail space, green space, and would remain public.
Cole said the group’s next step was to work toward preparing a fine-tuned RFQ, and perhaps invite abutting landowners to their next meeting.
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