GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 23, 2013

Conomo tenants weigh options after court case

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.

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