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September 23, 2013

No lease answers at Long Beach

ROCKPORT — The town’s selectmen, in a rare and special Saturday morning meeting designed to flesh out details and options over leases for the houses on the town-owned land at Long Beach, formally agreed to allow them to run to their Dec. 31 expiration date.

But officials did not render any other decisions regarding the 10 year leases for the tenants of 154 seasonal houses, with the board due to revisit the issues in their regular meeting Tuesday night at 7 in Town Hall.

Although the Saturday meeting had no public comment period, there was still plenty to talk about as an estimated 50 residents — from Long Beach and elsewhere — listened in on issues ranges from year-round use, rental rates, property taxes and property assessments.

Town Administrator Linda Sanders said the town had been doing research about the upcoming issue for years, speaking with Long Beach residents and taking in data from Conomo Point in Essex, Little Neck in Ipswich and from a similar land lease situation in Ohio.

Selectmen Paul Murphy suggested continuing a lease for two years, for which the rental rates would move toward fair market value while a town task force would approach the longer-term questions and concerns — similar to the Tool Company Task Force.

“It’s a very big issue that’s facing Rockport,” he said.

Other officials had different views.

“I don’t know what (a one- to or two-year lease) gets us,” said Erin Battistelli, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, adding that she is not thrilled about the idea of waiting two more years to make a long-term decision.

“I don’t like the message that we would be sending with a bridge (short term) lease,” added Selectwoman Eliza Lucas.

Lucas acknowledged that her family has a house in Conomo Point in Essex, where cottages also sit on leased, town-owned land. In Essex, some Conomo Point tenants have filed a class action lawsuit challenging the appraisals and rental rates of a third year of short term or “bridge” leases, claiming the lease rates are far too high.

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