, Gloucester, MA

March 28, 2013

Letter: Rockport needs to revisit Long Beach rents

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

The multiple listing includes specifies “... darling furnished seasonal cottage, baseboard heat for cool nights, two baths, new roof, water heater, gutters, front decking, tiled flooring ... etc.”

Beginning with “two baths,” the amenities are stated as “new.” The cottage has been newly painted and windows recently resealed. Add to this the fact that, legally, this is listed as a two-family, currently used as a single residence. The description ends that the property is currently a single residence, but the first floor could pass for a ground level suite. There is also an outside shower.

The list price for the property is $425.000. The address is 2 Old Colony Road. The house is in the third row of the Long Beach settlement. It contains 900 square feet. There is no mention of taxes. The house sits on a parcel leased by the town of Rockport.

The number of homes on leased property at that location varies in discussion, but the commonly accepted number is something like 150.

This lease is up for renewal this year, by December 2012. The business portion of the lease appears in the warrant for Annual Town Meeting. The warrant cites the article as an amendment to a Town Meeting of 1908, and cites support for the warrant as two sections of Mass. General Laws. If approved, the article settles full responsibility for establishing a new lease “on such terms and conditions as the Board of Selectmen may deem appropriate, and in the best interests of the town…etc.”

I don’t think so.

The seawall at Long Beach is a known critical structure, with repair and or replacement costs cited as $13 million, or more, if the feds determine the wall must be higher than at present. Should the height become a factor, it could affect the “view,” and I assume this is for the “front row.” Some of the issues surrounding the wall project produce discussions as to whether or not the lease holders would be responsible for any costs.

Discussions include references to liability, such as holding the town “harmless” in the event of major wall failure. The wall has been listed as a CIP priority for several years,, and this year, it has been downgraded. Since then, Rockport has weathered two major storms.

Following the first, a DPW comment, as a news item, stated that the wall had taken a hit, but was still holding. Following the second storm, the publicized comment was, “it if (the storm) had been any worse, it (the wall) might not have made it.”

Well, which is it? Is there another “erosion study ($70,000) under consideration. In its first review, the Finance Committee rejected the DPW’s request; in another meeting the Finance Committee approved it by a 5-2 vote.

In reviewing items critical for CIC funding, the wall was dropped in category, and a comment was made that the town required “a stronger stream of revenue.”

Look up an assessors’ card for the listed property and you will find nothing for Old County Road.

This board owes it to the town to establish a study committee as worked for Old Maritime Colony to thoroughly review and develop a suitable lease, clear in stated liabilities, and with consideration of an “escalator clause,” delineating lease increases as times and or “force Majeure,” requires. Year ‘round residents cannot be expected to bear fixed rentals for however many years are considered in lease.

The howling will begin with the cry that the Rockport deal is a sweetheart deal, favorable to other communities. In response, look at our neighbors in Ipswich and Essex. These communities have dealt with similar lease problems, excluding the presence of seawall that needs help now.

When I first ran for selectman, petition and all, I knew it as a lost cause in the beginning. My primary stand dealt with Rockport assuming full control of Old County Road, selling the lease hold and establishing a trust for town needs. I placed fourth in a field of five or six, and fielded many calls regarding how the leaseholds would suffer.

That was then. This is now. The fiscal future of this town is insecure. Our taxes are increasing; the state’s desire for taxation is in the usual game of “Tag your It” on Beacon Hill, and we know damned well that the possibility of a raise in federal taxes is in the offing.

Go to Town Meeting April 6 and insist on capable guidance in formulating Long Beach rents, guidance that will look to Rockport revenue. Our property assessments are on the town website; are yours?