Two Planning Board candidates face off at Essex Town Election | Election

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ESSEX — As the town prepares to make historic changes to its zoning bylaws, two candidates are duking it out for a seat on the Planning Board at Monday’s Town Election.

Incumbent Matthew Greco is seeking his second term on the board, having been elected in 2017. His challenger, Brett Prince, is one of the nine defendants suing the town over the proposed cell phone tower project on Eastern Avenue. The lawsuit hopes to overturn the Planning Board’s decision to grant TowerNorth Development a special permit for the project.

“I am an abutter to the proposed cell tower site,” Prince explained. “I am concerned that the selected site will negatively impact our property values, (including) the natural beauty of Ebben Creek and the Essex River, without providing meaningful benefit to Essex. I believe I’ll be able to work effectively with the Planning Board, unimpeded by the lawsuit.”

Greco disagrees.

“If I were to be voted out, I wonder how the Planning Board will react (to Prince’s appointment),” he said. “It’s like an attack from within — potentially being served with papers from one of your own members. If you were to serve on the board, you can’t be particularly invested in one issue. You need to take emotion out of it. That’s what I learned.”

Greco works at SPS New England, a civil infrastructure company based in Salisbury, as a project scheduler primarily working on roads and bridges.

“It was a learning experience,” Greco said of his first term on the Planning Board. “I have a background in architecture and a degree in engineering from Wentworth, but I was not specialized in zoning and town planning policies. By the time you get used to it, your (term) is up.”

Because of the steep learning curve that comes with the position, Greco believes its prudent not to bring any new recruits on to the Planning Board as the town works to implement all-new zoning bylaws.

“Theres a heavy level of keeping that continuity going,” he explained. “Throwing in a new member could potentially disrupt any further movement.”

Last year, Essex residents voted to instate a downtown zoning district to allow mixed-use buildings around the Main Street Causeway. Greco said helping pass the measure was one of the highlights of his term. Looking forward, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council is drafting new bylaws that could potentially instate more zoning around Essex if voters so choose.

MBTA zoning

On top of that, the Planning Board will also need to comply with the state’s new Chapter 40A guidelines which requires a certain number of affordable housing units near MBTA train stations. Members of the Planning Board, including Greco, have challenged the state’s one-size-fits-all guidelines, claiming that such regulations would dramatically change the small-town character of Essex.

Prince holds a similar view.

“Setting aside 50 acres and allowing for 750 new units will dramatically change Essex,” he stated. “We currently have a total housing stock of just over 1,600 homes, so this proposal could increase housing units by over 40%. I support affordable housing, and spoke in favor of the Affordable Housing Trust which passed at the Annual Town Meeting this week. As a member of Planning Board I intend to work with the selectmen, and surrounding towns, to partner with the state government to modify the plan for small towns like Essex.”

Prince has lived in Essex since 2018 and has worked in health care for the past 10 years.

“I’m willing to drive the ongoing MAPC work to completion, developing zoning regulations that clearly define how the land in our town will be used,” he stated, “enabling residents to protect the value of their property by defining the use of the land, so that our evolution is not at the whim of the highest bidder when property changes hands.”

Also on the ballot

There are no other contested races at this year’s election. Assessor Michael Antell, Moderator Jefffrey Jones, Selectwoman Ruth Pereen, and Board of Health member Fares Mouchantaf are running unopposed for reelection.

Two constable seats are open, but only incumbent William Knovak is listed as a candidate on the ballot.

Newcomers Jacob Foster, Robert Fitzgibbon and Michele French are running unopposed for single seats on the Manchester Essex Regional School Committee, Board of Library Trustees and Housing Authority, respectively.

The Town Election is scheduled for Monday, May 9. Polls will be open in the training room at the new Public Safety Building, 11 John Wise Ave., from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Voters are asked to park in the main lot (if facing building, parking is on the left hand side of building) and enter through the front entrance.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or

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