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.”