After more questions and concerns that development of the Baron’s South property will escape their purview, the Board of Finance decided to put on hold an appraisal of the 23 acres of town land.
Acting on an informal request from the Board of Finance, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff asked the board on Wednesday night for $10,000 to complete the appraisal of the land between Imperial Avenue and Compo Road South. Joseloff’s administration hopes to partner with a nonprofit agency to into affordable senior housing and a skilled nursing facility.
“In response to a sentiment – it was not a formal vote by your board several weeks – we went out to seek an appraisal,” Joseloff said.
Board member Edward Iannone immediately questioned Joseloff as to why only one appraiser was sought.
“I think there has been some concerns…that there hasn’t been enough transparency in the process,” Iannone said.
Later in the meeting, a member of the public said there should be a neutral, unbiased party involved in the process of developing the land. Joseloff fired back at the critics who questioned the plan.
“There’s some kind of suggestion that something is amiss here and that something is being underhanded and let me state very openly that that is not the case,” Joseloff said. “Frankly, I resent the implication that it is."
Town Attorney Ira Bloom said it’s not unusual for one party to be sought for an appraisal if they’re familiar with the property. Welspeak Dugas & Kane, the firm considered for the appraisal, worked on the property with the original owners, the estate of Baron Walter von Langerdorff, founder of the Evyan perfume company.
Several board members, concerned that the Town Charter might limit the board’s involvement, stated that they’d like to have a chance to review the deal due to its financial implications. The cost of the project is unknown, but the land cost the town $7 million in 1999. The land now houses the Westport Center for Senior Activities and is assessed at $19 million.
“We want to work with you. We want to consult with you. We want to listen to your opinions,” Joseloff said. “We’ve said that repeatedly, so I’m at a loss frankly to understand why we’re continuing a dialogue. We said we will and we will.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” replied Helen Garten.” It shows the board’s interest in the issue.”
The board informally agreed that an appraisal that would look at the best uses for the land, rather than the simply the value, was the best option
“Just to do an appraisal that will slightly modify a $19 million town assessor value is not very useful to me,” said Avi Kaner.
An item on the agenda Wednesday night was to look at town-owned lands that could be sold, but it was postponed due to the time spent on other items. Also at the meeting, $1.2 million was contributed to Westport's other post-employment benefits fund and a budget cut to to Westport's public transportation .