PLUM ISLAND — While beachfront property is usually considered prime real estate, representatives of the owners of three Northern Boulevard homes argued yesterday that their values have been set too high.
At a hearing in the Boston office of the Appellate Tax Board, the owners said beach erosion at Plum Island, and the attendant bad publicity the issue has generated, have combined to depress the worth of their properties, factors the Newbury Board of Assessors has not considered when setting valuations for levying real estate taxes.
The Appellate Tax Board has the authority to overrule local boards of assessors and grant tax abatements to the owners.
Two of Newbury's assessors contended their valuations were fair and as accurate as possible under the sometimes difficult circumstances on the island.
All of the owners' local applications for tax abatements were denied by the Newbury Board of Assessors in February. The appeals were for fiscal year 2010 assessments, which were based on real estate sales is 2007 and 2008, and took effect Jan. 1, 2009.
Technically, information after Jan. 1, 2009, was inadmissible, but Appellate Tax Board Chairman Thomas Hammond said the issues were evolving and he would allow some leeway.
Stephen DeSalvo of 16 Northern Blvd. and Peter and Candace Erickson of 48 Northern Blvd. presented their own cases, aided by the director of the Plum Island foundation, Robert Connors.
Joseph DiNapoli, owner of 46 Northern Blvd., was represented by his nephew, Joseph Belanger of Haverhill, also aided by Connors. DiNapoli is a resident of Sarasota, Fla.
Connors told Hammond that a "notorious stigma" is attached to the beachfront properties, noting that all are mentioned in a January 2009 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report on a study that found as many as 26 buildings on the island would likely be lost to beach erosion in the next 10 years if nothing were done to renourish the beach.
The finding that the houses could be in jeopardy and the extensive news coverage of the island's erosion problems would be discouraging factors for any potential buyers, he said.
The apprehension surrounding the Plum Island shore has altered the traditional belief that beachfront property is the most desirable, DeSalvo said.
"It's now clear that beachfront property is detrimental to value," he said. "It's certainly not worthy of a premium."
DeSalvo's property is valued at $782,500. He said he had to remove all the furniture and other belongings from the house because erosion threatened the dwelling.
The Army Corps study was used to justify a $5.5 million beach renourishment project that deposited about 120,000 cubic yards of sand onto a section of beach that includes all the homes that were subject to yesterday's hearing.
Connors and DeSalvo said the limit of federal flood insurance is $250,000 and that banks will not lend more than a property's coverage.
Connors said a property on Annapolis Way that was compromised by erosion is being sold for $299,000, while it is assessed for more than $800,000.
He said he attended a real estate auction in July 2009 on a Southern Boulevard property also valued at more than $800,000, where the top bid was less than $585,000.
DiNapoli's property is assessed for $823,900.
Peter Erickson added that the beach renourishment project had also come with some drawbacks that contribute to diminishing the value of his property, currently set at $837,300.
To move the project forward, 26 homeowners in the area to be renourished had to grant permanent public-access easements, an action he characterized as putting part of his property "under public control."
"The status of this easement, for which we continue to pay taxes, is essentially the same as a public park," he said.
Newbury Board of Assessors Chairman Frank Budd Kelley III said the public has always had a right of access to the beach. He also noted that the town had contributed local funds — about $215,000 — to the renourishment project.
Hammond took the matters under advisement and is expected to issue a decision in three to six months. He said the effects of beach erosion on property values needs somehow to be addressed.
"It's a difficult issue for all the parties involved," he said.
Two other homeowners have scheduled hearings for different dates: Nov. 22 for property at 76 Northern Blvd. and Dec. 1 for property at 58 Northern Blvd.
Alexander Cicerano is listed as trustee for 76 Northern Blvd., which had an assessed value of $819,000. Christine Florio of Framingham and Wanda Novak of Worcester are listed as trustees of 58 Northern Blvd., which is assessed for $830,400.
Two other appeals were dismissed because no one appeared for their hearings. Dismissed were the cases of James and Barbara Hopkinson, for 64 Northern Blvd., valued at $944,100; and Henry Smith, for 68 Northern Blvd., assessed for $1,293,400. Assessors records show Smith with an address in Woodstock, Vt.