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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inconvenient Truths about the YMCA's Appraisal

More details about false assumptions that jacked up the campground's price

By Will Collette

On Friday, I presented information from the $735,000 YMCA campground appraisal that had been conveniently overlooked by Charlestown Land Trust officials when they pitched the YMCA land purchase deal to the Town Council on February 13.

As the appraiser himself admits, the "new" appraisal value presented at the February 13 meeting was based on hypothetical circumstances "known to be false."

In this article, I will explore some of the many reasons the appraisal presented before the Town Council was a gross misrepresentation of the YMCA Camp's real world value.

Last Friday, I wrote about the biggest factor that produced a $735,000 appraisal figure - assumption that the land was going to be re-zoned residential and that a 10-home conservation development would be built on it.

That assumption is a pure fairy tale since the Town Council decisively rejected exactly that type of a proposal last spring.

Shortly after that proposal was rejected, the Charlestown Land Trust applied for and received a state DEM grant for $367,000 under the condition that the YMCA campground WILL NEVER be used for any other purpose than open space with passive recreation.

Despite an appraisal based on knowingly false assumptions, we bought it, agreeing to pay $475,000 to the Land Trust and, in turn, the Land Trust would pay the YMCA $730,000 using the town's $475,000 and the $367,000 state grant. For land that is worth far, far less than the appraisal.

Let's look at some of the other knowingly false assumptions that were used in the appraisal.

The appraiser wrote that his appraisal assumed that the buildings that cover the site aren't really there, that there are no toxic hazards in those buildings or on the site, and that the other features on the ground that will have to torn up and carted away don't exist, either.

We learn from the appraisal that there aren't 14 derelict buildings on the land, as CLT Treasurer Russ Ricci claimed on February 13. There are 17 major buildings plus an uncounted number of smaller sheds and out-buildings scattered all over the property.

Here is how these buildings are described in the appraisal (pages 35-36):


But none of this was a factor in the fantasy price of $735,000. Based on the "hypothetical" used to establish a price based on the "best and highest use," all of these problems were wished away.

During the February 13 meeting, members of the public demanded to know what it would cost to clean up the property. The Land Trust could not give a straight answer. When pressed, they finally said they thought the cost would be somewhere between $59,000 and $100,000. Given that they did not have an accurate count of the number of buildings, or the state of their contents, this estimate is probably too low.

The appraiser DID NOT include this significant liability when he made his fairy tale appraisal.

On page 8, the appraiser says he assumed there were "no hidden or unapparent conditions of the property, subsoil or structures that render it more or less valuable." However, the assessor says he did not enter any of the structures.

On page 9, the appraiser also noted he "is not qualified to identify hazardous waste and/or toxic materials....The appraiser's value estimate is predicated on the assumption that there is no such material on the property" but he states flatly he is not responsible if any is found.

On page 10, the appraiser says he did not determine whether the property would be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act but notes that any barriers that affect ADA compliance "may adversely affect the property's value, marketability, or utility." 

To sum up, this appraisal, setting the value of the land at $735,000 was commissioned by the Charlestown Land Trust which set the parameters and conditions for the appraisals.

The appraisal is based on assumptions the appraiser admits are known to be false. They include the assumption that the land will be re-zoned residential and a development will be built on the land.

It assumes there are no buildings and other structures on the land when there are 17+ buildings. There is no discount for the cost of demolition, removal and clean-up.

The assessor didn't look inside the buildings or try to identify any toxic materials, but that doesn't matter because he admits he isn't qualified to detect such problems anyway.

One of the few winners in this
caper: Boston lawyer
Joanne D'Alcomo, leader of the
Sonquipaug Association
Topping it all off, the appraiser notes that the housing market is so bad right now that even if the hypothetical housing development he used as an assumption was built, the homes wouldn't sell. As I recently reported, Charlestown housing prices fell 4.5% over the past year according to

But no real world conditions interfered with an appraisal's verdict that the land is worth $735,000 based on the conditions and assumptions that were commissioned and approved by the Charlestown Land Trust - the same folks that are about to get $475,000 of Charlestown tax money.

They will take town money as well as state money and give it to the Westerly YMCA. Then we will have a piece of land that will provide our non-resident neighbors in the Sonquipaug Association with bigger backyards while we all get to wonder how we could get hosed so badly.

There oughta be a law....