GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

September 20, 2013

Editorial: Interim 'bridge' leases are only answer for Long Beach

It’s not clear whether Rockport’s Board of Selectmen will render a decision tomorrow when its members gather at Town Hall for a rare 9:15 a.m. Saturday public meeting to discuss their best options for dealing with the town’s leases with the seasonal residents of Long Beach.

But it’s become clear this week that town officials have one realistic short-term choice, with the expiration of the current 10-year leases looming on Dec. 31. That’s to offer the tenants and residents short-term, so-called “bridge” leases while the town carries out a number of studies into how to manage perhaps the town’s most valuable single piece of property for decades to come.

The issue has been simmering since a group of Long Beach residents, including the private Long Beach Improvement Association, raised the prospect of seeking leases for up to 30 years — and drew support from Rockport’s Annual Town Meeting in April.

On the surface, the proposal makes sense for the tenants; with a lease assuring their holding of the land for another 30 years, the residents could secure mortgage-type funding to cover costs of the rents they pay to Rockport for the town-owned land, and the property taxes the pay on the land and on the houses, which they own.

But a growing number of residents have since asked whether such a deal would be fair to the town and its taxpayers. And that is indeed a very good question, considering that the town’s Finance Committee headed by Wally Hess found that, while the Long Beach properties are worth $63.02 million, all of the tenants at the 154 houses of cottages collectively paid just $1,005,084 in fiscal 2013 taxes and rent combined. That’s just 1.59 percent of fair market value — and that’s ridiculous.

To be fair, the Long Beach Association has recognized that any new leases will have to come with rent hikes. Yet it has also pitched the idea that many tenants are on fixed incomes — and that may be true. But town residents and some town officials have emphasized that, by definition, all of these seasonal houses — with no water connections in the off-season — are in fact these residents’ second homes.

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