Request $750,000 from county for broadband internet project

Rockport readies warrant for November vote: RES redevelopment, new fire station, ordinance amendments

Tue, 08/31/2021 - 9:15am

    The Rockport Select Board approved four articles Aug. 30 that will be placed before voters on the November 2021 ballot. They include taxpayer approval of funds to continue efforts redeveloping the former Rockport Elementary School (RES) site as well as building a new West Rockport Fire Station.

    The remaining articles involve proposed changes to portions of Rockport’s Land Use Ordinance.

    The board also authorized Town Manager Jon Duke to submit an application to the Knox County Commissioners requesting $750,000 under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to be used in the first phase of broadband internet project which would provide high-speed internet to the municipality.

    Warrant Articles

    Article 1 is a housekeeping item which simply elects a moderator to preside over the meeting.

    Article 2 asks voters to “enter into a contract with engineering and design professionals to prepare documents for future consideration of a new fire station in West Rockport on terms and conditions that the Select Board determine to be in the best interests of the Town.”

    Renderings submitted to the town by Amanda Austin of 2A Architects, LLC, call for a new West Street Fire Station which would house up to four fire engines or EMS vehicles, as well as provide sleeping accommodations and a meeting room for firefighters and emergency medical technician.

    The fire station would be approximately 5,000 square feet in size and would be set back from the busy intersection, behind where the existing fire station stands; additional parking spaces would be added to Route 17 side of the structure.

    The estimated cost of the new building would be $2 million, and funds have been budgeted by the Town for work associated with the construction.

    “[This Article] is only for the design itself, and to put the design into a place where it could be put out to bid so that then the voters can make a decision upon that price,” said Duke on Aug. 30. So there will be not only a design but also a cost that they can make decisions on.”

    Article 3 initially read, “Shall the Town authorize the Select Board to enter into an agreement with the NewHeight Group for the purposes of providing architectural drawings and bid documents for the former Rockport Elementary School site on terms and conditions that the Select Board determine to be in the best interests of the Town for a sum not to exceed $35,000?”

    NewHeight group is the development firm selected by the RES Task Force and the Economic Development Committee to provide a development plan for the RES property. 

    Last week, NewHeight submitted a timeline and initial fee schedule to Duke last week which calls for a period of six-months work to create site plans and renderings of the project at a cost of $5,000 per month.

    Unlike the West Rockport Fire Station project, funds were not assigned for this project, and voter approval will be necessary to pay NewHeight from the Town’s unassigned fund balance.

    “Effectively this is doing a master plan, but doing it with an entity that has experience in the world of developing properties such as these,” said Duke.

    “I had someone ask me, because it just seems like such a small amount of money to be going to the voters for. Is it just because we didn’t say something about this category in the budget... could this have been $5,000 and we would still have to go to the voters,” asked board member Denise Kennedy-Munger.

    “We hadn’t encompassed this in any other articles, and unfortunately there really wasn’t another line item that said ‘potential future professional services’ anywhere nearing this amount,” said Duke.

    The board then began revising the article. Kennedy-Munger said she wanted the language of the question to “get at the notion that we’re trying to realize value from this site.”

    Board member Eric Boucher said he wanted the article to make it clear that the funds requested were already in town coffers –in the unassigned fund balance – but did not need to be raised. The board eventually approved the following language for the warrant article:

    “Shall the Town authorize the Select Board for a sum not to exceed $35,000, from the Town’s unassigned fund balance, to enter into an agreement with NewHeight Group for the purposes a market survey to evaluate development feasibility, develop conceptual site program, and to work with professionals to create conceptual renderings for the former Rockport Elementary School site on terms and conditions that the Select Board determine to be in the best interests of the Town and to maximize the value of the property to benefit Rockport taxpayers?”

    Articles 4 and 5 comprise changes to Chapters 700 and 405 of the Town’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO) which were proposed by the Ordinance Review Committee and approved by the Planning Board. Chapter 700 includes the organization of the board, the power and duties of the Chair and Vice Chair, as well as the procedure for how applications and appeals are heard by the board. 

    The proposed amendment to Chapter 405 of the LUO deals with who amendments to the LUO themselves are adopted, but also refers specifically to petitions and petitioners.

    Members of the board discussed the lack of clarity in the articles as they were proposed, because the text of the changes and the LUO chapters themselves was not included in the warrant. (See the Select Board packet here)

    “Personally, I think we should provide what we’re changing. I don’t want anyone to vote and have to go hunt and peck to see what the changes are,” said Chair Michelle Hannan.

    Boucher suggested either including the language in a Town-issued newsletter or including a link to the changes on the front page of the Town of Rockport website. 

    The next meeting of the Rockport Select Board will be held Monday, Sept. 13 at 6:00 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House.