ROCKPORT — With a request of $35,000 from taxpayers to have a Portland-based firm conduct market research and develop a site plan for the former Rockport Elementary School (RES) site appearing before Rockport voters on the November ballot, the RES Redevelopment Task Force met Sept. 29 to discuss an upcoming public hearing on proposed development project.
Earlier this year, the development firm NewHeight Group was chosen by the Task Force as well as the Rockport Select Board to create a site plan and development proposal for the former RES property located at the corners of routse 1 and 90. The 7.4 acre property is owned by the town, and a public vote is required to authorize the transfer of such land to a developer.
NewHeight’s proposal anticipates a vote made on the sale of the land in November 2022, and any necessary zoning changes to the property completed prior to this date.
An Aug. 25 proposal sent by NewHeight Group to Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke outlines a four-phase plan for the development of the RES site, and states that the firm would be providing “real estate development services.” The parties engaged in the agreement would be NewHeight Group, LLC and the Town of Rockport.
“With the understanding this effort will be a collaboration among stakeholders including but not limited to the Town of Rockport’s Planning Department, the RES Site Task Force, The Town of Rockport’s Economic Development Committee, and residents of Rockport, NewHeight Group is proposing a phased agreement with the flexibility to evolve through this process.”
The four phases of the process described by NewHeight are pre-vote process, rezoning and public engagement, pre-construction and construction.
The “pre-vote process” appears to be the phase of the proposal that Rockport taxpayers would be asked to approve on the November ballot, as this phase is expected to involve six months of work by NewHeight at a cost of $5,000 per month. The fees would be paid from the Town’s unassigned fund balance.
At their Sept. 29 meeting, members of the Task Force as well as liason members Selectman Eric Boucher, Economic Development Committee member Debra Hall and Economic Development Director Brian Dancause, discussed an upcoming public hearing which representatives from NewHeight Group will be attending. The Task Force workshopped potential questions to be asked of NewHeight as well as Rockport citizens.
The public hearing will be held Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House during a meeting of a the Rockport Select Board. State law requires that the public if notified of this meeting 10 days in advance.
“It’s an opportunity for the public to express their opinions. And people might not want to hear it, but the Select Board is not under any obligation to answer questions or to argue with anybody,” said Task Force member Doug Cole.
“And hopefully the Select Board will be focused on just the idea of engaging NewHeight to do this, because that’s what the warrant article is about. And so it’s really not the time for the public to come forth and say ‘this is what I think should be on the RES site and shouldn’t be,’ although no one is going to stop them, probably, from expressing those views,” said Hall.
“A talking point I have...is the idea of no commitment perceived with NewHeight Group. We really are just agreeing to hire them for conceptual plan process....I think when you look at their proposal, yes, could have our own public input process, but that needs to be coupled with someone who can actually turn it into something, someone who can turn it into a conceptual plan, and for us to do that effectively we want the person translating this into a conceptual plan to hear people’s comments first hand,” said Task Force Chair Amanda Dwelley.
Janet Hall, who serves on the Task Force as a neighbor to the RES site, asked what would happen to the property and any future development plans should the November warrant article fail at the polls.
“Do we want to address the fact of if this doesn’t pass, should the resident’s know...If it doesn’t pass then what’s going to happen with this land? Are there ramifications of this not passing, or will it just sit there for another five years?” asked Hall.
“I’m not going to comment on that right now,” said Boucher.
“I think we ought to stay positive,” said Task Force member Steve Smith.
Cole said he would be responsible to making revisions to a list of talking points created by the group as well as writing a press release about the public hearing. At the outset of the meeting Cole presented the group with a document he had drafted outlining the process involving the property to date and ‘why NewHeight was chosen.’ Dancause had also prepared notes on the project, which included a compared the property to the former Camden tannery site.
“I agree with 90 percent of what [Dancause] said but I would not mention the Camden tannery project because that is so toxic,” said Cole.
“So say ‘what this is not,’ but don’t say it’s not the tannery,” said Dancause.
The warrant article appearing on the November ballot reads as follows:
“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?”
Below is the itemized list of work NewHeight proposes for this initial phase:
• Develop and vet concept plan
• Review all available information regarding previous efforts to redevelop the site including any available stakeholder input
• Engage with current comprehensive plan effort to gather current stakeholder input on site redevelopment
• High-level market survey to evaluate feasibility of desired outcomes
• Develop conceptual site program
• Work with design professionals to create conceptual renderings to illustrate program
• 6-month duration, December 1, 2021, through June 1, 2022
• $5,000/month plus approved expenses and associated administrative costs
• Description of proposed mix-use development
• Type and quantity of housing proposed based on market conditions
• Renderings of proposed site program for public engagement
•At the conclusion of Phase 1, Rockport to determine whether to issue an RFP, or continue to engage NewHeight Group in RES site redevelopment