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Friday, May 13, 2011

Larry LeBlanc's price

This posting makes up for another loss due to the Google blog melt-down. My original post was wiped out. It might return, but it might not. In the meantime, this is a reconstruction of that posting on Larry LeBlanc's $3 million offer to make Whalerock go away.

The long-running Larry LeBlanc soap opera unveiled a new wrinkle at Monday’s Town Council meeting. For those of you new to Progressive Charlestown (or comatose), LeBlanc is the developer behind the controversial Whalerock wind turbine project. We've written a lot about that plan. He owns 81 acres overlooking US 1.

After running into a frenzy of NIMBY opposition, LeBlanc has proposed an alternative use for the land, a 39-home affordable housing complex,

And if you don’t like those two ideas, he is suggesting as he did in 2008 that he will work a deal with the Narragansett Tribe for the land, which they could add to their nearby 31 acres. If Native American lobbyists are able to work a deal with Congress, that land could be placed in federal trust, opening up the chance that Charlestown’s worst nightmare, a casino, could be built on the site.

But LeBlanc has offered to make that all go away: Buy My Land, he says, for the bargain price of only $3 million.

Council President Tom Gentz put this proposition before the audience at the Council meeting and said “Help us – tell us what you think?” Gentz also cautioned that LeBlanc is the kind of guy who demands swift answers.

It wasn't a big hit especially the part about LeBlanc needing a swift answer, but it wasn't rejected either.Opinions from other Council members and the audience were mixed. Most reacted negatively to Gentz’s remark that LeBlanc would need a swift answer. Ultimately, the Council voted to refer the offer to the Planning, Conservation and Parks & Recreation Commissions who would judge the merits of the proposal and determine whether $3 million is a fair price. That motion passed unanimously.

After that, who knows? The former Town Council rejected a similar LeBlanc offer by a 4-1 vote in January 2009. LeBlanc’s opening offer back then was $5.5 million, then dropped to $4.5 million even though the property was assessed at only $1.4 million at the time. LeBlanc’s 2008 offer was also leveraged by his threat to sell it to the Narragansetts. This was before the Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court decision that monkey-wrenched the Narragansetts’ plan to put their adjacent land into federal trust.

LeBlanc’s land is worth less now than it was in 2008, when he offered to sell a $1.4 million parcel to the town for $5.5 million.

Clearly, there’s room to negotiate on the price, especially since LeBlanc does not have the same leverage today that he had in 2008. But he does have the NIMBY fear factor, plus some generalized Larry LeBlanc fatigue going for him.

If the various commissions believe there is merit to the idea in principle, negotiations for a more reasonable price would be next. Of course, the town would have to figure out how to pay for it and whether it needs to go before the voters (most likely). Absent some positive movement by the town, I think Gentz is right that LeBlanc will keep the crazy proposals coming, like a cross between the Terminator and the Energizer Bunny.

This is a hard one to judge. Nobody likes to cave in to blackmail, nor get ripped off. On the other hand, the neighbors are scared to death of Whalerock. Everyone seems to be scared of a Narragansett casino, as far-fetched as that really is. Then there’s the open space. Nothing makes the Planning Commission and the CCA drool more than getting more open space tucked away under lock and key.

For once, I don’t have a firm opinion on it. Maybe we should figure out how to buy the land and see if we can get a mental health treatment facility built there.

In case you haven’t noticed, we have been running a poll on this issue (see the poll in the top right-hand column). For inexplicable reasons, this poll hasn’t generated as much action as several of our past polls. So, vote early, vote often (actually, you can only vote once).