Haddam Land Swap Opponents Question Property Values

Members of the group that opposed the swap want to know why the state's valuations of the land in Tylerville are so much higher than the town's.


Though the Haddam “land swap” deal has been declared dead, the opponents of the controversial proposal aren’t yet ready to leave the funeral.

Two of the leaders of the group Citizens for the Protection of Public Lands, say they will press local leaders to explain why the town’s assessment on the 17.4-acre river view land in Tylerville is at least $1.3 million less than the state’s appraisals.

“How could this happen, it’s such a big drop,” said Sharon Botelle, a member of the group that has fought for more than a year against the swap. “It just doesn’t smell right.”

The state yesterday released the appraisals for the river view land, which is owned by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. One of those appraisals put the land’s value at $1.78 million, the other at $1.4 million.

However, following a revaluation of all properties here the town last year reset the land’s value at just $300,540. Previously, the assessor’s value on the land had exceeded $1 million.

At the time, land swap opponents had questioned whether the town had dropped the property’s value in order to bring it more in line with 87 acres in Higganum that a developer was seeking to swap for the 17.4 acres.  That developer, Riverhouse Properties LLC, wanted the Tylerville land for a mixed-use commercial development that would be built next to the firm’s banquet facility.

The state law authorizing the swap required that the private land be worth more or equal to the state land. The appraisals on the Higganum land placed the property’s value at just a fraction of the river view land.

Because of the disparate values between the river view land and the property in Higganum, Riverhouse's partners were required to either give the state other property or money to make the deal equitable. Instead, the developer this week opted out of the deal.

Melissa Schlag Proulx, who has helped lead the opposition to the land swap proposal, said today she also wants the town to investigate the discrepancy in the valuations. Proulx said issues of possible political manipulation aside, the town stands to lose revenues with the lower valuation on the state property.

Under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT program, the state pays towns revenues for land it owns in their municipalities because the town cannot tax that land.

First Selectman Paul DeStefano, who backed the land swap plan, said today he’s not sure why the state’s appraisals came in so much higher than the town’s. The town hired Vision Appraisal Services of Massachusetts to conduct a revaluation of all properties here in 2010 and the company set the land’s new value, he said, which for went into effect during the new tax year in 2011. 

But DeStefano said he doesn’t think the drop in value impacted the town’s PILOT payment significantly. He said he could not immediately recall how much the town gets from the state for the Tylerville land.

He added, however, that he would look into the matter “to see if we’ve left any money on the table.”

prkrsttn April 06, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Every taxpayer down in Haddam ought to be banging down the door of Town Hall--what kind of fraud did the town officials perpetrate? How much money do they owe each taxpayer for cheating them twice--first, forcing this ridiculous land swap down their throats, and now they come to find out that the town should have gotten more money from the state but didn't because the appraisal was set artificially low to suit someone's needs. That money belongs to every taxpayer in that town. This is criminal.
Harper Jordan April 06, 2012 at 12:51 PM
The law is still on the books and Riverhouse owners could resume the sale if and when they come up with the needed cash or property to equalize the assessments. The LAW needs to be removed or amended to get rid of this possibility once and for all.
prkrsttn April 06, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Absolutely right. Get rid of the law, but also get rid of the lawMAKER who led those poor people down the garden path. She has some nerve telling everyone the values were equal on the two properties--she knew all along. They wasted our time and money while other more important issues could have been addressed. Yes, get rid of the LAW and her, too.
Gene Bartholomew April 06, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Since when does a town value a State Park??????????? oh, when the developer wants it to appear to be worth nothing to get a sweetheart deal no doubt
Gene Bartholomew April 06, 2012 at 01:32 PM
I'll say it again because I've never heard of this. Since when does a town value a State Park??????????? The action itself should be suspect, no?
Melissa Schlag April 06, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Clark Creek is actually a wildlife management area and not a designated State Park. But any state property like this that is located in various towns throughout the state is taxed by each town at a reduced rate, using the PILOT program.
David Cassenti April 06, 2012 at 02:46 PM
The land swap is dead, but yet the land swap opponents don't want to LET GO! The town does not collect property taxes on STATE-OWNED LAND! The evaluation by the town might be suspect, but did you think that MAYBE, if this swap went through, the Riverhouse owners ould increase their property taxes to Haddam IMMENSELY and remove a large chunk of relatively worthless land from the tax rolls? Plus, I have lived here for NINE YEARS - I NEVER KNEW that those 17 acres existed. Now that the land swap opponents got their way, what are THEY going to do to preserve and promote public use of that land? NOTHING! Just give it a REST!
David Cassenti April 06, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Thanks, Melisa, I stand corrected about the taxes being paid to the town. But STILL, think about it - the valuation of the land would have increased the value of the Riverhouse's property and helped the town with their tax revenue, and more than offset the loss of the taxes on the other property, which COULD have been used by the public...
John April 06, 2012 at 03:06 PM
The town hires an outside company to do the appraisals. Go to the assessor's page on the website. The company, Vision, does it for hundreds of towns in multiple states. It isn't the people in town hall. Also, the State doesn't pay taxes on it anyway, only a fraction of the value in an overall "PILOT" payment for all of its holdings in town, which are enormous. Cockaponset, Haddam Meadows, etc.etc. etc.This was good commercial land paying a lot of taxes when the state swiped it for $6 million without telling or asking anyone. I don't know why people aren't upset about that. $6 million taxpayer dollars, no public hearings, no notice, not even contact with the First Selectmen. That should be investigated.
Gene Bartholomew April 06, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Correct me of I'm wrong but Riverhouse got a sweetheart deal of not paying taxes, that deal would have probably been extended to the "boutiques". They are not contributing and its not fair, if anything all businesses should have the taxes revamped too, they've been here for decades paying into the system and then this business gets to pay no taxes because????? If I were an existing business owner in Haddam I'd be at Town Hall and ....... They should redo all business taxes and lower them and have Riverhouse pay a fair share. I remember that issue coming up along time ago and it seemed so odd to me for them and some people like here, now, claiming about the taxes when they don't pay any, how many years would go by before they kick in?? and if they fail then what??
Jeanne Corvan April 06, 2012 at 09:43 PM
If the original valuations of the 17 acres had been accurate (and come on people, 300 K for 17 acres of river view property with a park (not a big house) in front of it blocking the view), then money and time would not have been spent because the deal would have been dead in the water rather than one year later. Moreover, how could the savvy politicians in Hartford, including the Governor and Esty, not notice the lowered estimate of river view land when the lowered valuation was made. They embraced this early appraisal as accurate. How could they do that when the price had orignally been 1.3 mil that they paid. Do they really think that river view property is going down in value these days? As a result, tax payers money has been wasted. How could they not have questioned this appraisal and prevented this whole ugly waste of time from happening.
Elizabeth Gross April 07, 2012 at 01:22 AM
OK, once the dust settles...Eagle Landing is unkempt, poorly maintained, and is quickly becoming an eyesore. I suspect after this fiasco it will be pretty much ignored (think Norwich State Hospital). This is a priceless, beautiful piece of property that I predict will be allowed to decay. The process has already begun - check it out. What a loss to Haddam, and what a poor image it projects for the town. This is an issue that needs attention right away. Stop with the numbers stuff. Get going on creating a beautiful area that folks will want to visit again and again. The grand old State of Connecticut isn't going to do it.
Gene Bartholomew April 07, 2012 at 01:49 PM
The real problem is that US taxpayers have an extremely short memory. A man named Bill O'Neil ran this state into the ground, he was the first who gave billions to large corporations.(why he was ever touted as a hero is beyond me, blame the corporate controlled media) Then a man named Weicker got elected on the premise that he would not screw the people to balance the books, then he screwed the people to balance the books stating that he didn't know how broke we were. He cut all services, he shut down the state parks, he gutted them, he also shut down the Mosquito Control Unit which was only partially reinstated years later and is why West Nile and other nice things are back, in short nothing was ever cut to the rich or corporations, only on the people, a trend that Rowland, Rell and Malloy continue. He instituted an income tax, lowered the sales tax from 8+ to 6% but increased its scope to cover almost everything. In one fell swoop the State got a huge carving of pie, our pie. The income it got was so high instead of returning the money to the people and reinstating services they began the largest Corporate Welfare System I know of in the United States. There used to be Rangers at all parks, Weicker stripped them and they became self service. Pattaconk really took a hit as have others with vandalism and trash and scum wrecking the parks..........continued
Gene Bartholomew April 07, 2012 at 02:01 PM
....as the state has aquired more parks, Machimoodus, Sunrise, Eagle Landing etc, it has not added Rangers or DEP personnel to cover them adequately, if at all. If you travel and stop at any parks in this nation you always find them manned and managed, not in Ct. Ct is the only state I know of that only mans a few parks, the main ones like Hammonasset and even that is not manned as it should be. The problem with the DEP is that it has taken on corporate mentality from the Reagan/Bush era-- ( here ya go, here's more work for ya, we're not hiring more people, you get to do it). This state is completely on the wrong path, it is a corporate controlled path that began with O'Neil, they dictate what gets done and how it gets done, that is why IF you're paying attention, there is literally NO difference between O'Neil, Weicker, Rowland, Rell, and Malloy. They have all followed the same pattern, raise taxes, cut services, give money to large corporations under the guise that they need it because they make a lot of jobs, they don't, less than 1% of all Ct workers work for large corporations. Rowland is the only one who got busted. Weicker cut the most services and raised taxes the most, all of it is still on the books and Malloy just trumped him, our taxes were raised again on top of and higher than Weickers raise in order to keep the same flow of Corporate Welfare flowing. That is insane and unsustainable.
Alexa Flora April 07, 2012 at 05:41 PM
The fact that the 17 acres overlooking the Connecticut River is way more valuable than the 87 acres next to Cockaponset State Forest is probably the most transparent part of the Haddam Land Swap deal. As constituents, we expressed our "swap" questions and concerns in letters to Sen. Daily and First Selectmam DeStefano which were never acknowledged. So I am very grateful to Melissa Schlag for her clear sighted and focused perseverance and responsive leadership on behalf of the area's citizens. Kudos to our State Rep.Philip Miller, Rob Smith, John Kennedy, Martin Mador, Gerry Matthews, Sharon Botelle, Daria Thompson and Ed Schwing for seeking transparency and consensus in Haddam's development and the protection of State puplic lands along the CT River in Haddam.


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