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Town seeks developers for RES site

By Gabriel Blodgett | Aug 13, 2019
Photo by: Gabriel Blodgett Rockport has finalized a Request for Qualifications for developers, seeking their ideas and visions for the former RES site.

Rockport — At its Aug. 12 meeting, the Rockport Select Board voted to approve a Request for Qualifications seeking developers' ideas and visions for the former Rockport Elementary School site. The board also voted to approve the composition of an official RES Redevelopment Committee.

The RFQ, which is available on the town website, states that the town is “looking to partner with a developer in order to create a public-private partnership while developing a prime piece of Town-owned real estate.”

Both the RFQ and the committee composition were proposed by the ad-hoc RES Committee, which was comprised of Select Board members Debra Hall and Doug Cole, as well as town planner Bill Najpauer and administrative assistant for assessing, planning and codes Hannah Sisk. That committee met several times in 2018 and 2019 and held a workshop for residents in May 2019 to “obtain information and input.”

Cole said a large part of the committee’s work “has been a synthesis of going back over the last 10 years to see what [residents] would like to see at the site.”

The RFQ includes four Principles of Development, including that the project must “make a significant contribution to Rockport’s tax base ... be aesthetically pleasing and attractive,” maintain accessible "greenspac"' for all residents, and include the town as “an active partner in the development of the property.”

The document includes a list of potential elements residents are interested in, including a recreation area accessible for all ages, mixed use of commercial/residential housing, a market space to support local farmers/artisans/craftspeople, a makerspace, eldercare/daycare/pet care, and walking paths and connections to existing trails, among several other ideas.

The document goes on to state that “although open to design proposals, the Town envisions a minimum of 20 percent to be used for open green space and the remainder to be balanced between mixed use retail/professional space and housing.”

The town also plans to “transfer all or some of the parcel to the developer upon the acceptance of the design proposal.”

At the Select Board meeting, resident David Cockey voiced concerns over several aspects of the document. He called the first principle, which calls for an increase to the town’s tax base “rather restrictive,” and suggested it be changed to reflect an option for broader contribution, which he said would not preclude tax benefit.

With regard to ownership and the plan to transfer all or part of the parcel to the developer, he asked the board “Is that really what you want to do? Accept their design and hand it over?”

Najpauer said the ad-hoc committee had spoken at length about protections for the town, including the possibility of clawback provisions to ensure that the developer would proceed in accordance with the town’s wishes and the eventual contract.

While some members of the board were receptive to Cockey’s comments, the RFQ, which was finalized by the ad-hoc committee at an Aug. 5 meeting, was approved unanimously as drafted.

Following another unanimous vote, the town is seeking four residents to join the RES Redevelopment Committee. Three of the members will have experience and skill sets in finance, real estate or development, while the fourth position was added for a member of the neighborhood at the impassioned request of Janet Hall, who lives next to the property.

“I’m not naive,” she said. “I live next to an undeveloped piece of property … but consider putting someone from the neighborhood on, because we care a lot.”

The remainder of the committee seats will be filled by the town manager, town planner, finance director, and two Select Board members. It will also include one member each from the Parks and Beautification Committee and the Recreation Committee.

Applications for the Redevelopment Committee will be available on the town website or at the Town Office.

The 7.67-acre parcel is in the 906 Modified Mixed Business/Residential zoning district, which the RFQ states is to “encourage commercial growth and residential uses that create a village atmosphere.” The zoning allows residential, commercial and recreation uses.

The RFQ lists three-phase power, sewer, high-speed internet, access to town planning and design assistance, timely permitting, location in a TIF district, assistance with grants, and opportunities to designate the site as an overlay district as parcel amenities and incentives.

The evaluation criteria that the newly formed committee will use to select a developer includes the “participant’s credentials, history of timely completion of projects, proven ability to work effectively with the community and public agencies, and creativity and vision for the RES site.”

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