GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 30, 2012

Conomo Point residents hit town with lease lawsuit

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — More than one dozen residents of Conomo Point have once again filed a class action lawsuit, this time accusing the town of raising their rent astronomically.

The complaint was filed by Christopher Weld Jr. of the Boston-based firm Todd and Weld LLP this past Wednesday.

In the complaint, Weld outlines a plight anyone can relate to — increased rent.

Last year, Essex officials approached Mark F. Tyburski, of the Quincy-based Tyburski Appraisal Corp., to appraise properties on northern Conomo Point, in order to offer a fair market price to residents.

“The lawsuit is essentially about the substantially increased lease rates,” Weld said during a phone interview Friday.

Calls to the town’s law firm, Kopelman and Paige in Boston, on Friday for comment on this story were not returned by press time.

The town offered second-year bridge leases to residents of Conomo Point and gave the residents a deadline of Nov. 30 to sign the leases. However, many did not.

Weld outlined specific examples of the increased rates in the complaint.

“The Lemcke lease’s rent in 2011 was $903.59,” said Weld. “Tyburski opined for a fair market rental value for 2012 of $27,000 — an increase of over 21 times.”

Joan Herrmann has been living at 172 Conomo Point Road for the past 25 years. She said she simply could not afford to keep living in her home if the rent jumped so high.

She said she paid $1,540.21 a month last year as rent for her bridge lease.

The complaint issued by Weld states the town has proposed a year two rental rate of $8,070 a month for Herrman.

“That’s not even including taxes,” she said during a phone interview Friday. “I receive about $16,000 a year in Social Security. Adding $6,000 in taxes would be devastating.”

Herrmann, a year-round resident, said the conditions of the streets and lack of water on Conomo Point should not warrant such an increased jump in rent.

Tyburski said Friday he could not go into specifics about the appraisals due to confidentially agreements.

“It’s a very complicated issue; markets change,” he said.

In drawing up the appraisals in October, Tyburski recommended they be based on sales of similar properties. A majority of the comparisons used in his report were to properties on Plum Island in Newburyport. Tyburski included more than 30 different properties to compare to those at Conomo Point.

The plaintiffs contacted their own appraiser to get a second opinion, John Petersen of the Boston-based firm Petersen, LaChance, Regan, and Pino LLC.

The court filing states Petersen shared his findings with the town; as a result, the rate of return on sites was dropped from 5 percent to 2.5 percent, but would increase each year, if the town decided to renew the leases.

Petersen’s appraisal showed Herrmann’s two-year rate would be just shy of $3,500, rather than Tyburski’s appraisal rate of more than $8,000.

Petersen’s findings showed Tyburski’s rates were, on average, about 25 percent to 30 percent of the fair market rental rate.

The rates established by the town did not support either appraisal, according to the complaint, and plaintiffs have taken the town to court over the issue.

The hearing about the appraisals is set for Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. at Lawrence District Court on 2 Appleton St.

Dec. 6 is also the same day that town staff will host a public hearing about how to proceed with Conomo Point. Earlier this week, Mark Lynch, chairman of the Conomo Point Planning Committee, stressed the importance of public input during this forum.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3455 or jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.