Former Gloucester residents James and Leah Powers are the proud new owners of a four-bedroom home on Pleasant Street in Rockport.
They have every reason to celebrate their purchase, and in some ways, they have the town of Rockport to thank for it, and Rockport officials should be celebrating the Powers' purchase as well.
But before everybody starts popping champagne corks in all directions, those Rockport town officials and municipal leaders in Gloucester, Manchester and Essex alike should pause for a few moments of historical review of how Rockport's so-called Gift House has finally become a home.
The Powerses acquired the house at 30 Pleasant St. for $190,000 — a great deal considering that the house had been on the block for $220,000 just a few months earlier, and some town officials once hoped to get $275,000 for it before recognizing that no homeowner could pay that price and yet qualify under affordable housing eligibility guidelines, a pre-requisite under the deed that extended the town the "gift" in the first place.
The killer for town officials, however, is that the ultimate sale price means that, considering what the town put into the property over the years, the town has thus now sold it for a net loss – to taxpayers, not just "the town," lest we forget — of a mere $410,000, based on the town's costs of moving the house, cleaning up the new home site, and covering maintenance needs in the 11 years it served as property owner. And therein lies the rub.
Eleven years after former Rockport resident James Angelini donated the house to Rockport — requiring only that the building be moved to a new location, and that it be sold as an affordable housing property — there is a lot of good news here.
That begins, of course, with the Powers family owning its own home. It includes the fact that Rockport — through, in large part, the perseverance and persistence of Town Administrator Linda Sanders, who, after years of town fumbling, gave this project the priority it needed when she took the reins running Rockport's day-to-day operations nearly three years ago — finally got this house into the hands of a buyer. And it includes the more subtle benefit that, through this project, the town has cleaned up a contamination site it might never touched otherwise.
But the overriding lesson here is that any city or town that steps into realm of playing landlord, holding onto a development property or trying to develop or market a property itself runs a significant risk — and a costly one at that. And town or city officials must always keep in mind that those costs are felt and paid by community taxpayers.
There have, of course, been other classic examples of that over the years — such as when Gloucester school officials tried to play entrepreneurs and run the city's beach concession, at a $40,000 loss. And one can argue the city has dug itself a hole while trying to keep too tight a grip on the development of the I-4, C-2 site, more than two years after acquiring it for $1.5 million.
We hope Rockport officials have indeed learned their lesson regarding the temptation of diving into the worlds of business, sales and marketing. But beyond that, we also hope that those lessons are heard loud in clear in Gloucester, Essex, Manchester and beyond.
There are plenty of hard lessons in this 11-year saga to go around.