Editor’s Note: Haley is a member of the Rockport Planning Board, but speaks here as a citizen expressing his personal view, not that of the entire board.

My name is Mark Haley, I am a resident of Rockport. I attended the public hearing at the Opera House Tuesday, Oct. 12 about Warrant Article 3 on the November 2021 ballot:

“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 New Height Group for the purposes of providing a market survey to evaluate development feasibility, develop a 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 to maximize the value of the property to benefit Rockport taxpayers?”

I asked several direct questions to the Select Board, which were answered with silence. They deferred questions about town processes to the developer representative who was present. This is unacceptable.

My concerns with Warrant Article 3 are many:

1. Article 3 does not provide taxpayers with sufficient, clear information as to what it represents. The Article represents that the Select Board has decided to give a residential real estate developer, New Height Group, an inside track to redevelop the RES site and they are presenting it to the taxpayers through a nebulous ballot Article.

2. The town will not receive a fair, objective, and impartial study from New Height Group, or from any developer for that matter. This study should be performed by a third-party master planner or design/build firm. New Height is a residential development company with limited mixed-use experience. New Height will evaluate the property for their highest and best use, not the town’s.

3. The town will presumably use the work product generated by New Height as guidance for property valuation of the RES site. How can the town rely upon a study from a firm that will conceivably be bidding on the project in the forthcoming RFP? This is not arms-length, it’s the town negotiating against itself. And paying $35,000 for the pleasure to do so. The Select Board is asking voters to approve an article that will pay the fox to enter the henhouse.

4. The Article asks taxpayers to fund a developer’s due diligence costs. This is not market and is completely inappropriate. A developer is responsible for the costs of performing their own concept plan, market survey and feasibility study, conceptual site program, and conceptual renderings. It is misguided that a town would fund these costs. The Select Board should be presenting the voters with an article to approve funding the costs of an impartial, third-party master planner to conduct this study.

5. The study requested by the town should be done by an independent master planner or design/build firm, not a developer. If New Height Group wants to act as an objective, impartial third-party for the assignment, fine. But they must exempt themselves from participating in the future RFP process.

6. If this Article is passed, it will create a blatant conflict of interest. Will the town fund the due diligence costs of every other developer that is interested in participating in the RFP? How can the RFP be an open, fair, and competitive process if all other bidders are at a cost disadvantage? If Article 3 is passed by the voters, it will dissuade any other developers from participating in the RFP.

This is not being critical of New Height Group. I’m familiar with the projects they have developed in Portland, and they would be a great partner for the town to work with to redevelop the site. However, this is not the proper path; this engagement is conflicted and biased and would give New Height an inside track in the RFP process and a blatant subsidy.

During the Public Hearing, the representative from New Height referenced “pro forma financials” as a differentiating factor between them and a master planner or design/build company. No developer on earth would use New Height’s financial projections to evaluate the opportunity. They will use their own financial models, generate their own market/feasibility studies and conceptual plans for the site — at their own cost, not taxpayer dollars. This Article represents an engagement that serves one single purpose for one single developer. This is a waste of $35,000 of taxpayer money.

I appreciate the time and effort of those on the Select Board, Economic Development Committee, and RES Task Force. But how does one expect the redevelopment of the RES site to represent the best interests of the town if the process is conflicted, biased, and misguided from the outset?

I welcome a response from the Select Board, Economic Development Committee, and RES Task Force.

I will be voting “NO” on Warrant Article 3 and strongly recommend Rockport taxpayers consider doing the same.

Sincerely,
Mark Haley
Rockport Planning Board member

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