ESSEX — Within hours of a Nov. 7 court hearing, Essex town officials boarded up a house at 138 Conomo Point Road and planned to enforce the restraining order they took out against Kimberly Smith, the former owner of the property.
Smith, however, said she didn't receive notification about the hearing, which took place on a Monday morning, until it had already been held.
Town lawyers Kopleman and Paige mailed the notice to Smith on the afternoon on Nov. 5, a Saturday, despite state law requiring seven days of notice before a housing court hearing. The notice was not delivered to Smith until the day of the hearing.
Essex's eagerness to board up the building is part of what some residents see as increasingly aggressive actions toward the tenants at Conomo Point.
Conomo Point itself is owned by the town, but residents have long held to the claim that they own the houses; leaseholders pay both property taxes and land rent.
The leases are set to expire Dec. 31, though many tenants have been offered short-term bridge leases. Tenants have been given until Nov. 30 to sign the leases or to begin packing and be out of the homes by the new year.
The house at 138 Conomo Point Road has been a contested property for several years, with claims of ownership from the administrators of the estate of Smith's mother, Judith Foley, Smith herself and the town of Essex.
Most recently, the issues have centered over a plan to transfer the lease of the property to John and Jean Goldsberry, with documents from the town alternately showing ownership by both the estate and the town. Also, the transfer of the lease to the Goldsberrys has been approved by probate court, and the Goldsberrys have committed to paying back taxes due on the site. But the town has refused to sign off on the lease transfer.
"It's all about the property," said Smith, who said the town had stolen her property and is attempting to demonize her. "They want my property, and they're trying to take it, but I'm not going to let them."
Though Smith's legal situation is unique, the stepped-up tactics used by the town in the fight for Conomo is not.
Bridge leases that would allow families to stay in their homes for periods of three to five years have been issued at drastically increased rates, and were issued after many of the residents had returned to their hometowns for the winter, residents say. Conomo Point does not have access to the town water system from mid-November to mid-April, so the tenants are almost all summer-only.
The Webber family shares a house on Conomo Point between the families of five siblings and two dogs each summer. The bridge lease they received increases the rent on the land their house is on by nearly 100 percent, with the total bill going from around $12,000 per year to $20,000 per year, even though the tax portion stays the same.
"(The bill) has gone up to a figure that's going to be hard to sustain even though there's five of us," said Bill Webber.
Webber sat in the observer section of Monday night's special Town Meeting, listening to Selectman Sue Coviello explain that the revenue Essex expects to gain from the bridge leases will increase from more than $500,000 to more than $1 million in less than three years — despite the fact that some homeowners may choose not to sign the bridge leases.
Finance Committee Chairman Jeff Soulard called Conomo Point "our biggest revenue source," and made it clear that, without the revenue from the tenants, the average tax burden on Essex taxpayer would increase by $250 to $300 per household per year.
Nonetheless, he recommended that the town proceed with making a plan to subdivide the area, implying that he expects the plan to bring enough revenue to outweigh the lost rent.
Selectmen have said there is no plan for the final disposition of Conomo Point, but Selectman Jeff Jones previously told the Times that he considers 138 Conomo Point Road "a very attractive property," and a warrant article was approved to bring in an assessor to value the sites.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451 or at email@example.com.