GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 6, 2012

Judge hears basics of Conomo challenge

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — LAWRENCE — Two Boston-based attorneys clashed in Lawrence Superior Court Tuesday, outlining arguments over lease agreements sought by the town of Essex and its own residents of Conomo Point.

Judge Thomas R. Murtagh heard statements from Christopher Weld Jr. and Suzanne Elovecky of Todd and Weld LLP, representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the town, and lawyers Gregg Corbo and Jeffrey Blake of Kopleman and Paige, Essex’s town counsel.

Before either attorney was able to make a statement, Murtagh made it clear he was not able to finish reviewing the lengthy response to the residents’ complaint, filed by Corbo.

The complaint, filed by more than a dozen plaintiffs representing five different properties in the northern section on Conomo Point, challenges the town’s setting of “unreasonable” rates for the second year of bridge lease agreements after the residents’ long-term leases expired at the end of 2011.

Weld, who was joined by several Conomo Point residents, argued that the year two bridge leases offered may end up forcing some residents out of their homes, and therefore would bring irreparable harm.

Corbo retaliated by saying a case for irreparable harm cannot be made as the leases are reasonable, adding the plaintiffs signed the bridge lease agreements last year.

The root of the bridge lease issue stems from appraisals, done by Mark Tyburski of the Quincy-based Tyburski Appraisal Corp. Conomo Point residents argued Tyburski’s appraisals — which reflected land rates, were not “fair market value,” according to the plaintiffs.

The judge questioned the methodology behind Tybruski’s appraisal amounts; Corbo said they were compared to similar properties outlined in his response to the complaint. The appraisals were based on comparisons with properties primarily on Plum Island.

The issue of who exactly owns the homes — the town, which owns the land, or the residents, who have built their houses on it – is still unclear. But the rate of returns were lowered after the town reviewed alternative findings by the plaintiffs own appraiser, John Petersen of the Boston-based Petersen, LaChange, Regan, and Pino LLC, Weld noted in his complaint.

Initially, the rate of return on the lease agreements was set to be five percent.

Corbo said the town could not accept Petersen’s amounts, because they would go against previous and current litigation which cites Tyburski’s rates are already in place.

Under current term rates for the bridge lease agreements, year one charged 2.25 percent of the assessed value of the home, year two would charge at 2.75 percent of the value, and year three would jump to a rent of 3.5 percent of the value, according to the complaint.

Murtagh raised several questions about the history of cases, but was also concerned about a deadline for a trial date. Weld said he intended his witness list to be relatively short, if the case did make it to trial, consisting of a handful of residents and Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki, among others.

After the hearing, Corbo reaffirmed his position.

“It is a universal principal in the world of law, irreparable harm cannot be made (sic) if a monetary amount is a solution,” he said.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.