ESSEX — Just days after a judge upheld the appraisals on Conomo Point properties established by the town, some Conomo residents say they are looking to sell out, while others are still weighing their options.
Northern Conomo Point residents claimed they were under duress when they signed short-term or so-called “bridge” leases in 2011. And in November 2012, residents filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that the second year of the bridge leases carried rental rates far above fair market value.
But Essex County Superior Court Judge Richard Weld III upheld the town’s appraisal method, which includes the value of the houses, as well as the town-owned land. That combination, with the judge’s backing, took effect this year and is expected to raise the tenants’ rates by up to 300 percent or more between this year and next.
Susan Abis said she is weighing her options and is unsure if she will continue to lease at Conomo Point, though she acknowledged signing the agreement.
“When a gun is being held to your head, you sign the paper,” she said, referring to what she and others are calling the town’s high-pressure, take-it-or-leave-it tactics.
Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said the Board of Selectmen will likely take up the issue of lease rates at its next meeting.
The actual rates would likely be 3.75 percent of the assessed value, which is noted in the initial leases that were signed in 2011. But the judge’s decision has set the stage for those values to soar.
Abis cited the increased lease rates she expected to face. According to assessing records, her seasonal Conomo Point property measures one-tenth of an acre and is valued at $437,000 this year. But that compares to an assessment of $331,000 last year; both assessments include the house and the land.
She estimated her new lease would cost her upward of $10,000, in addition to upkeep and taxes.
“After all they went through with the courts, we are not better off than we were before,” Abis said.
John Cushing joked that he holds “dual citizenship” in Essex, with homes both on Conomo Point and in downtown Essex.
He said he is interested in continuing to rent at Conomo in the short term, but he is wary about being “priced out of the neighborhood.”
Sarah Cushing, his wife, said her family has been on Conomo Point for generations.
”It’s just not worth it; we could do a summer rental for half the price and half the headache somewhere else,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to think about leaving, (but) the reality is it’s not worth it. It’s just too much.”
She said that any future lease beyond one year is uncertain. Their Conomo Point residence has an up-to-date septic system and is in year-round use. John Cushing said it’s ironic that the town wants to increase the lease rates but is not apparently reinvesting back into Conomo Point itself, noting the bumpy roads.
“They are not treating us as highly as they value the property,” he said.
Ida Doane, a local real estate agent who also owns property in southern Conomo Point, said people are interested in buying property in the north.
“But before they put money down, they want to know how long the lease is,” she said.
Others, meanwhile, decided they have already had enough.
”I could see where the town wanted to go,” said former Conomo Point resident Sefton Earl, who sold his lease to a buyer last year.
He said he transferred the property for “considerably less than what it was assessed for.”
”To me, the (current) assessments are way out of line,” he said.
Like other Conomo Point residents, Earl was not the first in his family to live at Conomo Point. His grandchildren would have been the fifth generation — if he stayed in Essex.
“It came down to dollars and cents,” he said. “I made the decision, found a buyer — and I left.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.