ROCKPORT — Long Beach residents say they are experiencing a severe case of sticker shock after receiving new 10-year lease agreements for their summer homes from the town.
One seasonal Rockport resident, Jim Santo, said he’s considering selling his second row cottage at Long Beach.
Santo estimates his new land lease, which is based on the fiscal 2014 land assessment, will ultimately mean paying an additional $750 per year over each year of the 10-year agreement.
Selectmen have decided to gradually raise the land rent to 3.25 percent of the fiscal 2014 assessed land value over each year of the 10-year leases. Meaning, no matter what happens to the land itself, the rental rates are based on the 2014 assessment value.
The 10-year leases that expire Dec. 31 charged $2,100 for annual land rent for a beach-front cottage and $1,300 for a back row cottage, with that number going up with the consumer price index.
Santo recalled in 2003 paying just a few hundred dollars a year for land rent; his wife’s family has been at Long Beach for about 50 years, he said. By the end of the new lease, Santo will be paying about $9,000 a year in rent for the land under his family’s cottage.
Given that the lease only lasts 10 years and a tenant cannot get a mortgage without the town’s approval, selling a cottage and land lease might be more difficult than it sounds, Santo said.
“It (has) made it very difficult for a buyer to be interested,” Santo said.
The former head of the Long Beach Improvement Association said he’s not the only one considering selling their Long Beach property.
“It’s put a lot of people in very, very difficult situations,” he said.
Others posting on a Facebook group about Long Beach also claim the “for sale” signs will be popping up.
One question raised by officials throughout the process of drawing up the leases was whether tenants who have been renting for generations should receive considerations in the lease agreement.
“It just seemed that (the selectmen) were very receptive to what we had to say,” Santo said. “(Then) it was like everything we’ve been talking about for the last two years was thrown out the window.”
Long Beach residents pay taxes on the properties, but as the homes are seasonal, must have a second home or a place to stay during the winter months.
Selectmen knew the lease decision would not be popular, but said the negotiation process was one of fiscal responsibility; they stand by their decision.
“I believe that our board worked very hard to strike a balance between our fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Rockport and maintaining the culture of the multi-generational community at Long Beach,” Selectman Eliza Lucas wrote in an email to the Times.
Officials said the purpose of increasing the rent for a 10-year period was to introduce a fiscal change slowly, so it would give residents time to plan.
“Historically, the rents have been low and I understand why there was an expectation that they stay that way,” Lucas’s email reads. “Therefore, we were mindful to give the community ample time to plan for the rent increase by staggering the increase over 10 years.”
Lucas is not alone on that front.
“In my opinion, they have been given a pretty good deal for many years,” Selectman Paul Murphy said. “This is a fair deal.”
Lucas, who used to summer at Conomo Point in Essex and still has family there, said the land has more than just a dollar sign attached to it.
“I also recognize that in addition to being an asset, the cottages are very special places in which value cannot be measured in monetary terms, and I do not take that lightly,” her email reads.
Murphy said officials were aware some Long Beach residents would opt to sell. “Nobody is 100 percent happy with this deal, including yours truly,” he said.
Lucas added there was no easy solution and sympathized with Long Beach residents, but said the deal was fair to them and other Rockporters.
“But I truly am hopeful that leaving Long Beach does not prove to be the case for most of the families who have lived there for generations and the fabric of the neighborhood remains intact,” Lucas concluded.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-675-2708, or email@example.com.