Business

Plymouth officials cancel lease on sand bar’s sole resident

John Scagliarini visited his home on Long Beach, which looks out over the ocean, with his dog Zeus, this month. The building sits on town property that he has leased for the past 25 years.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
John Scagliarini visited his home on Long Beach, which looks out over the ocean, with his dog, Zeus, this month. The building sits on town property that he has leased for the past 25 years.

PLYMOUTH — John “Scag” Scagliarini knew he was taking a chance 25 years ago when he bought a storm-battered house on Long Beach, the narrow strip of sand stretching for 3 miles into Plymouth Harbor. But he thought he risked losing his year-round home to Mother Nature — not town hall.

He thought wrong.

Selectmen in Plymouth, which owns the half-acre lot on which Scagliarini’s house sits, last month voted not to renew his lease, which he’s held since 1992, citing a lengthy history of late payments.

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Scagliarini — who was the only year-round resident on the beach — had to move out, and has until Halloween Eve to get all of his belongings off the beachfront lot.

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Town Manager Melissa Arrighi said she’s recommending that the town raze the building and “return the site back to its natural state.” Long term, the town might rebuild an old pier near the house to allow public access by boat.

“It wasn’t personal, there weren’t any hidden motives,” Arrighi said. “We had an opportunity to not renew the lease, and we took it.”

Selectman John Mahoney said the property “should be used by the taxpayers.”

The action has spurred an outpouring of support for Scagliarini, 61, who lives off the grid in the ramshackle house with Zeus, his Newfoundland dog. Until the end of April, he shared the isolated spit of land with 17 summer cottages and their owners, as well as numerous nesting piping plovers and least terns.

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A lifelong Plymouth resident who has served on several appointed town boards, Scagliarini runs a tree business, and is known as a steward of the beach for doing things like pulling vehicles out of the soft sand and checking on neighbors’ properties after storms.

More than 100 people turned out for a peaceful protest in late May to show support for Scagliarini, and, as of June 11, nearly 1,400 people had signed a petition asking selectmen to reconsider their decision.

“In this political climate we should be stretching out our arms to help those around us,” the petition reads. “Show the town how much we care about John and let them know that we don’t want a neighbor, a friend, a guardian of our beach that we love so, to be left homeless.”

John Scagliarini with his dog, Zeus.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Scagliarini with his dog.

Shakari Dannibale, who started the petition drive, said its signers are “asking the town to be compassionate, give him another chance.”

Constance Melahoures, president of the Long Beach Owners Association, also sympathizes with Scagliarini. “He looks after the beach and helps out a lot of people,” she said. “Not only that, it’s his only home. I think [selectmen] should absolutely cut him some slack.”

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But officials say Scagliarini violated the terms of his lease by failing to make his quarterly payments on time over the last five years. The provision was inserted into the document five years ago when Scagliarini often was seriously in arrears on payments — sometimes by as much as 500 days. Had he kept current with payments, his lease automatically would have been renewed for another five-year term.

‘It wasn’t personal, there weren’t any hidden motives. We had an opportunity to not renew the lease, and we took it.’

Melissa Arrighi, Plymouth town manager 

Scagliarini acknowledges he was consistently late with payments during the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, but says he paid on time for the last three quarters of 2017. His annual payment is equivalent to the property tax based on the value of the house and land — about an $8,800 assessment for the last fiscal year. A state law initiated by Scagliarini ties the lease payment to the assessment and makes it a no-bid contract — something that irritates Mahoney.

“This individual was afforded an opportunity that no one else in a community of 60,000 people was able to secure: He got his own piece of legislation that gave him exclusive domain over half an acre — one of most strategic parcels of land on Long Beach — that is owned by the Plymouth taxpayers,” Mahoney said. “And over the course of 14 years, he was in a perpetual state of rental delinquency.”

Scagliarini said he hopes selectmen will reach a compromise with him. If they don’t, he will take the town to court over the lease.

“I’m not saying I don’t share some responsibility here,” he said. “But I do feel wronged. There are a lot of people who are delinquent on their taxes and they don’t lose their homes. And I don’t owe a cent, I’m paid up.”

The ocean view from John Scagliarini's home on Long Beach in Plymouth.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
The ocean view from John Scagliarini's home on Long Beach in Plymouth.

Officials said the difference is that Scagliarini’s house is on public property, and they are obligated to get the best deal possible for taxpayers. They question whether his payments — the equivalent of about $734 a month last fiscal year — were enough.

“It would be great if we could take a compassionate approach in a lot of situations, but we’re dealing with other people’s property — the public’s property,” Arrighi said. “When you’re the government, you’re not supposed to say, ‘Oh he’s a good person, he’s been around forever.’ Twenty years ago that may have been the way to do things, but now we have to be completely impartial.”

Another factor in the decision, Arrighi said, was a growing demand for more public access to the water, which led the town to buy several private parcels on Long Beach in recent years, and to tear down one house on the land it acquired.

“It’s a beach, and the fewer houses we can have out there, the better it is for the environment,” she said. She added that selectmen have no plans to use the site for parking — something suggested five years ago and brought up again by Scagliarini’s supporters.

Scagliarini said his house was originally a hunting blind used by people shooting duck and geese in the mid-1900s. It was gradually converted to a four-room, two-story bungalow, which he initially rented and then, in 1992, purchased from a former Plymouth firefighter who had leased the land from the town for decades.

“I bought it for $60,000 — cheap — but it needed a lot of work,” said Scagliarini, who estimates he has invested $110,000 in the house.

“I knew it was a risk, but I’m the same guy climbing 50, 60 feet in the air with a chain saw — so risk is something I’m comfortable with,” he said. “Financial risk, I have a lot to learn about. I’m not very good with money, as is obvious.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.