ROCKPORT— A seemingly attractive proposal to turn an old school site into affordable workforce and other housing should be dropped, a committee told the select board.

The Rockport Economic Development Committee studied a proposal submitted in concept form last June by the NewHeight Group. It would transform the old Rockport Elementary School site into a mixed-used development of multi-family housing, shops, wide-open community space and recreation trails.

The committee’s unequivocal conclusion was delivered at the board’s Jan. 9 meeting. “At this point, it is the recommendation of the EDC that no further action be taken with NHG and that the Town look at other creative options for the use of the site,” committee members wrote in their report.

The select board appeared surprised by the study’s conclusions, particularly those related to density and projected housing purchase costs of from $490,000 to $710,000 per home.

“It’s not great news,” Select board member Denise Munger said. She recalled questioning NHG last year. “I asked them, are you telling us that in order to make this economically feasible, we’ve got to have this level of density? And they said, yes. And now we find out even that is not dense enough.”

Chair Michelle Hannan added, “It’s not. But I think it also brings back that we’ve had this property for how many years, 10? 12? Ideally, we’d love to have something there. We’re happy to entertain any viable options.”

There was discussion, too, about the per square foot prices reflected in the NHG’s potential housing costs — from $490/square foot for a 1,000 square foot condo to $473/square foot for a 1,500 square foot attached home. Select board vice chair Mark Kelley cited a $300 per-square-foot price he had heard of recently. Munger suggested the NHG price might also reflect profit and Hannan agreed it probably represented more than just the building costs.

The EDC also rejected as not feasible use the 7.5-acre site at the intersection of routes 1 and 90 for a public park or low-density market-rate rental and for-sale housing.

All three concepts came as a result of public meetings called by the select board in 2019 and convened by the RES Taskforce to solicit ideas on site use. Rockport bought the land and vacant building in 2009 and razed the school in 2012. In November of that year, town voters approved hiring the NewHeight Group as consultants on the site.

In rejecting the idea of a park as unfeasible, the committee cited the high cost of developing and maintaining it “in perpetuity.” Also, “there would be no tax revenue” to pay for ongoing maintenance, the committee noted.

The EDC teamed with Rockport Planning and Development Director Orion Thomas to analyze the financial viability of the housing concepts — NHG’s multi-use, multi-family plan and the housing-only project of low density and market-rate units. They looked at potential development costs, revenues and profits for a developer willing to take on the projects. In both cases, the numbers did not add up either in terms of affordability or profits, according to the seven-member committee.

The NHG multi-family proposal called for four buildings with 12 units each and another 11 smaller buildings, each with two to six units — for a maximum of 114 units of what town officials hoped could be affordable workforce housing.

Concept art presented earlier for the RES site by NewHeight Group.

But the NHG concept “is not financially viable at the proposed density,” the EDC determined. It found the most affordable option would result in 1,000 square foot condos priced at $490,000 to make a profit. “In fact,” the committee reported, “it would likely take significantly more density to produce the intended outcome of attainable rental or for-sale housing for the median Rockport resident.” The analysis did not take into account recent federal interest rate increases, “which likely makes any project at the RES site unfeasible at this time,” the committee reported.

As for the second housing option, a reduced-density, housing-only project, the EDC said it would create 1,500-square-foot attached homes that would have to sell for $710,000 to be profitable.

The consultant’s report to the town last June puts the new EDC figures in perspective. NHG at the time said the average Rockport resident earned $65,000 a year. In order to spend no more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing, they would need to purchase a home for about $275,000, according to NHG. At the time, the least expensive home on the Rockport market was a $299,000 condominium — and in the 12 months prior, the average price of a Rockport home was $767,000, the consultants noted.

The select board accepted the EDC report but took no action as none was called for — although chair Hannan did extend an open invitation to entertain any good ideas for the RES site.

In related business, the board approved the EDC’s work plan for 2023. It includes the following areas of concentration: study increased density zoning districts; look for new businesses that fit the town’s traditional values and business advantages; support and enhance broadband efforts; and support Rockport’s economic resiliency, including solar zone overlays.

The economic development committee members are David Pio, chair; Jennifer Lloyd Mirabile, vice chair and Barrett Brown, Debra Hall, Dominic Cordisco, Richard Anderson and Anastasia Fisher.