ESSEX — You wouldn't think it would take all of 99 years to work out a new lease agreement between the town and about 100 householders on Conomo Point.
But a "renewal" of leases is now coming down to the wire.
Representatives of an appraisal company are scheduled to begin appraising the homes on Conomo Point for their "fair market value" on Monday, Aug. 8. And all leases are scheduled to expire Dec. 31, so "bridge leases" are being put into place until plans for the area are finalized, probably within several years.
But the approaching date has brought up a touchy point: Who owns the houses?
It is generally agreed here that the town owns the approximately 100 parcels in the area. But town officials recently reiterated their belief that the town owns the houses as well — and that notion is not sitting well with some dwellers.
"The Conomo leaseholders as a group disagree with the town's contention that the town owns the houses," said Paul Collins, who is treasurer of the Conomo Point Association and is acting as a spokesman for the leaseholders.
"We are not considering litigation at this point," Collins said, "We are meeting with town officials and will continue to do so. We hope to come to an agreement on this because it's a central issue as we begin to deal with the creation of bridge leases."
On July 21, Selectmen's Chairman Jeffrey D. Jones sent a letter to many Point residents stating that appraisers from the Tyburski Appraisal Corp. would be contacting them so appraisers could enter their residences to appraise the homes.
The appraisal will be used to determine the fair-market value of the bridge leases that householders will be offered. The appraisals will be used to set rental rates, and are not for sales purposes, town officials say.)
But Jones also wrote in his July 21 letter that "you are likely aware that the town has taken the position that the town owns both the land and all improvements within each and every leasehold on Conomo Point."
"The Board of Selectmen acknowledge," Jones added, "that there is a disagreement as to who should own such buildings, structures and improvements pursuant to the present leases ... By allowing the town's appraisal contractor to enter a building or buildings, neither the leaseholders nor the town acknowledges the other's claim of ownership of such buildings, structures and improvements."
The town's July 21 declaration that it owns the structures is not a new assertion. A memo from the town's counsel, the Boston-based Kopelman and Paige, P.C., stated in November 2010 that the town owns the property.
That memo is on the town's website, and in part says, "The structures and other improvements built by the tenants are part of the real estate and are owned by the town," attorney Gregg J. Corbo wrote.
"I believe that the (state) Inspector General's Office would take the position that the dwellings are part of the town's real estate," Corbo added.
But a lawyer's rhetoric has not put at least one leaseholder's mind to rest.
"I will be 80, I am retired and I am on a fixed income," said John Amirault, a resident of 82 Conomo Point Road. "I paid $230,000 for the deed for my house to another fellow in 1987, so I don't feel the town owns it."
Dyke Hendrickson can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.