to school board: Deal or no deal?
By Kevin Kelley
Published May 23, 2007
of months of fruitless negotiations with the Westlake Board of Education
over 42 acres of undeveloped land the city wants for recreational
fields, City Council voted to repeat its previous offer of $1.9
million. But the offer is on the table for only 30 days.
At a May 15 council meeting of the whole, real-estate
appraiser Roger Ritley told council members that the appraisal the
school board has used as its basis for an asking price of $3.59
million was “meritless.”
In August, the school board rejected the city’s offer
of $1.9 million for the land, saying it believed they could get
more money for the property even though a district-sanctioned appraisal
set the value at $1.7 million. The board obtained a second appraisal
in December which set the value at $3.97 million.
The city had obtained two appraisals, which valued
the property at $600,000 and $1.4 million. The city spent about
$5,000 to hire Ritley to analyze all previous appraisals.
Council President Michael Killeen said the city asked
Ritley to provide a “sanity check” on the divergent appraisals.
Complicating an accurate assessment of the land’s
value is the fact that a 1994 study by R.E. Warner determined that
over 20 acres — nearly half — of the property are covered by wetlands.
Federal and state laws regulate the development of wetlands.
Ritley told council that there is, from an economic
and investment standpoint, a danger in buying land containing wetlands,
because government regulations on developing the land can and do
Ritley concluded that several of the appraisals overstated
the value of the land because they contain wetlands, some scattered
throughout the property. The need to mitigate the wetlands or create
new wetlands at another location could cost up to $60,000 per acre,
Ritley said his opinion on the value of the land —
$1.1 million — reflected the decline of the real estate market over
the past year. A year ago, the land would have been valued at $1.3
or $1.4 million, Ritley said.
In comparing the appraisals, Killeen said, “I’m beginning
to see a pattern, with one glaring exception.” That exception was
the school board’s $3.97 million appraisal, Killeen said.
Westlake Engineer Bob Kelly said the city has developed
a plan to build two Little League baseball fields, two larger baseball
diamonds, four soccer fields, a walking trail and small playground
on the Bradley Road land. The cost of creating a recreational park
on the property is about $1 million, Kelly said. This amount did
not include the cost of wetlands mitigation, Kelly added.
Kelly said wetland mitigation costs under a recreational
development would likely be less than for a housing development,
which would be the likely alternative if the board sells the land
to a party other than the city.
“We have spoken several times in the past with the
(Army) Corps of Engineers (who play a role in wetlands mitigation),”
Kelly said. “They do look a little more favorably on developing
some types of recreation — passive or semi-passive recreation —
in wetlands areas with large preserves of natural areas, than they
do if this was some type of housing stock where you’d have to clear
all the trees.”
Law Director John Wheeler and Councilmen Ken Brady,
Ed Hack and Michael O’Donnell expressed concerns that, in light
of Ritley’s report, $1.9 million may be too generous an offer for
However, council approved a motion by a 6 - 1 vote
to write the school board repeating its offer of $1.9 million. Ward
3 Councilman Dennis Sullivan, the lone “no” vote, told West Life
he wanted more time to study all the appraisals.
Council’s offer of $1.9 million is contingent on acceptable
wetland mitigation costs.
Killeen expressed regret that school board members
declined an invitation to attend the committee meeting.
In an April 26 letter addressed to Killeen and Mayor
Dennis Clough, the school board indicated it will not participate
in any public meetings on the future of the property. The board
said it has hired the law firm of Ulmer and Berne LLP to represent
the district in all future negotiations regarding the land.
From his comments, Killeen showed little patience
for further negotiations through attorneys.
“I’m not willing to go back and forth through lawyers,”
The council president also seemed confident that the
city’s bid will be the best the school board will see.
“I don’t think they’ll get more than $1.9 million,”
he said. “I’d be shocked.”