GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 19, 2013

Judge backs town on property appraisals

An Essex County Superior Court judge has backed the town of Essex in its fight against a class-action lawsuit filed by northern Conomo Point residents, who have claimed the second year of lease rates charged by the town are far too high.

The residents at Conomo Point own their homes during the length of the current so-called bridge leases, which can run for up to five years and are meant to be a “bridge” between long-term leases that expired in December 2011 and future agreements, which could include a sale.

The Point residents, meanwhile, lease their land from the town, which has owned the land for more than a century. Residents pay annual rent to the town, in addition to taxes on the land and houses.

The case came before Essex County Superior Court Judge Richard Welch III, who had also decided another case tied into the rent appraisals and home ownership.

In that earlier ruling, Welch decided that two Conomo Point residents did not own their homes that are tied specifically to the land on which they rest, and they cannot be moved. Yet, two other residents whose houses can be moved off the land are the property of the residents, the judge ruled.

The ownership issue and rates of appraisal are significant in the event the town decides to end leasing or not sell the land to the residents.

In the new appraisal ruling, Welch pointed out the various complexities and problems in determining value at Conomo Point.

While the town hired one appraiser and Conomo Point residents found another, some of the second-year bridge leases raise the residents’ payments by tens of thousands of dollars from one year to the next. The appraisers were asked to determine the land-only value.

“First, the vacant lots, i.e. ‘land only’, do not exist,” Welch wrote. “Instead the lots (owned by the town of Essex) are ‘improved’ by cottages or houses (some owned by the town and some by the occupants).”

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