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Council delays decision on potential village land sales

February 22, 2012 - A local developer's plan to purchase two parcels of land owned by the Village of Oxford was put on hold last week as officials decided to take some time studying the issue and determining how best to proceed.

"I'm always nervous when something is that quick," said Councilman Kevin Stephison, referring to Dave Weckle's Jan. 24 offer to purchase vacant parcels at 23 Stanton St. and 27 Pleasant St. for $15,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Weckle, who owns Valley Building & Repair in Oxford, wishes to combine 23 Stanton St. with other parcels he owns in that area to build a mixed use development consisting of retail and office space along with residential condominiums.

As for 27 Pleasant St., which is 0.43 acre (or 18,744 square feet) in size, Weckle wishes to convert it into parking lot along with a pocket park.

Councilman Dave Bailey indicated he was a "little bit uneasy" about Weckle being the only bidder for these properties.

"My observation is Mr. Weckle is not only the lowest bidder, he's also the highest bidder because he's the only bidder," he said.

Developer Chuck Schneider, who owns numerous commercial properties throughout Oxford, expressed his concern that the village didn't engage in an appropriate procedure to determine if it's getting the best possible price for 23 Stanton St., which is 0.171 acre (or 7,452 square feet) in size and zoned as Central Business District (or C-1) Transition even though it's surrounded by residential-sized lots with homes.

"There's a lot of things I don't know much about, but I know a lot about property," he told council.

Schneider said given this land is a village "asset" owned by the taxpayers, council should take certain steps before it considers selling it to Weckle or anyone else.

"I think you owe (it to) the taxpayers . . . to follow a process that has some rational approach, not just sell it for the lowest bid," he said.

He suggested the village get the property appraised by a professional; contact real estate brokers to get their opinion on what the property might be worth; list the property with a broker and advertise it; solicit offers on the parcel; and have a site plan created that indicates how the property can be utilized.

"(Creating a site plan is) a key element in determining what it's value is," Schneider said.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, council viewed proposals it solicited from five real estate professionals as to how much they would list the 23 Stanton St. and 27 Pleasant St. for.

With regard to the Stanton property, the proposed list prices ranged from $19,900 to $49,000. Three of the brokers proposed a list price of $19,900. The Pleasant St. property's price range was $19,900 to $60,000, according to the brokers.

Weckle's offers of $15,000 for 23 Stanton St. and $20,000 for 27 Pleasant St. were submitted by his real estate broker Kathleen Sanchez at the Jan. 24 village meeting. His was the only offer to buy the land.

Schneider was concerned about Weckle's offers given they were so low compared to the proposed listing prices.

"I would lose my shirt if all I did was sell my property to the lowest bidder," he said. "To me, there's no sense of urgency. How long has the village owned this property? A very long time.

"I think it is prudent for you to (engage in) the process to find out what a realistic value for the property is."

Schneider told council he believes Weckle is "the best user" for the Stanton property and therefore, "he should be willing to pay more than anybody else."

"This isn't how you make money in real estate – selling to the cheapest person," he said.

Village Manager Joe Young pointed out that an appraisal was conducted by Oakland County Equalization, which established a true cash value of $20,500 for the Stanton St. property and $24,500 to $37,500 for the Pleasant St. property.

Young noted that "in this market, true cash value is not what things are being sold at, so it's not a market value."

The manager argued that Weckle's $15,000 offer for the Stanton property "was in the reasonable realm of the true market."

He also argued that having Weckle potentially build a three-story mixed use development is a better use of the Stanton property than someone building a single-family home there because it would generate more tax revenue for the village.

Young pointed out that the price ranges proposed by the brokers were only what they were hoping to list the properties for.

"How many times does it get sold for what it's listed (as), especially in this market?" he said.

Some council members expressed their own concerns with regard to the properties.

"I don't feel confident counting what the county says as an appraisal," said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. "The county's great, but I don't think appraisals are necessarily their bag."

Schneider noted that the county's equalization department isn't normally used to set values for property.

"They are assessors, they are not appraisers," he said. "You would logically hire an appraiser to do this."

"Is the price (Weckle's offering for 23 Stanton St.) as much as I want? No," Helmuth said. "Is it fair? It's close."

With regard to the possibility of the Stanton property becoming part of some mixed use development, Helmuth said, "There have been so many plans for this section that I don't want to hear anything about what he's going to do until I see a site plan, see the parking, the drainage, the lighting, everything."

Stephison agreed.

"If I could have a dollar for every promised development that was coming to the village, we could all retire wealthy," he said.

Like Schneider, Stephison believes the village "must weigh carefully, are we getting the best dollar for this property?"

"If our intent was to sell the property to increase the coffers of the village . . . and give us more monies (so) we don't have to cut services, (then) we have to make sure we are maximizing our property for the best buck," he said.

That being said, Stephison indicated he realizes that there is no "ironclad answer" when it comes to property values these days as different appraisers can give "unbelievably divergent values."

"Some people (believe) the sky is still falling and others (believe) the turnaround is right around the corner," he said.

Although Stephison believes Weckle is "probably the best and most appropriate purchaser" of the Stanton property, he's concerned whether $15,000 is "the best price we can get for it."

Council President Tom Benner questioned whether or not the village would "gain anything" if it spent money to appraise and advertise the Stanton property, then list it.

He noted how the Downtown Development Authority still hasn't sold the three properties it owns along E. Burdick St. and they've been off the tax roll for 10 years.

"Selling (the Stanton property) a little bit cheaper and getting it back on the tax roll, in my opinion, is a little benefit for the taxpayers," Benner said.

Young indicated the parcel would generate $80 annually in the property tax revenue.

"I wouldn't put that down as a biggie," Schneider said.

The manager also noted how putting $15,000 in the bank would help the village build up its reserves.

"It's only going to help once," Helmuth said.

As for the 27 Pleasant St. property, that entailed a whole other lengthy discussion.

It was proposed that Weckle purchase it for $20,000. The property would then be converted into a public park and parking lot.

It was proposed that the park would be approximately 5,000 square feet and be developed at the village's discretion to include a gazebo, benches, bicycle parking and a Lone Ranger statue. The village would maintain the park as well.

As for the parking portion, it was proposed to include an estimated 25 spaces for public use on a temporary basis through Dec. 31, 2013. It was also proposed that the village would provide bumper blocks at its expense and be responsible for the temporary lots' maintenance.

Future permanent parking on the property would include 10 spaces for public use and the rest for whatever development Weckle did on adjacent or nearby properties. Weckle would be responsible for the installation and maintenance of the permanent parking under the proposal.

The idea of having public parking there is to accommodate users of the Polly Ann Trail, which runs adjacent to the parcel along its northern side.

"I have serious concerns about this property on so many different levels," Helmuth said.

First on her list was the property's split zoning. The eastern portion is zoned for industrial use, while the western side is zoned for single-family residential dwellings.

Helmuth said the planning commission needs to look at this parcel and decide what it wants to see there.

She also feels there's too much parking being proposed. "I cannot believe you're going to get that many spaces on this lot."

If the village wants parking for trail users, Helmuth suggested having the DPW spread some gravel there and "whip a parking lot up."

As for the proposed park, Helmuth said, "I don't believe we're going to get the bronze statue of the Lone Ranger and a gazebo. I just don't see it happening."

Schneider doesn't understand why the village would even consider selling the Pleasant property to Weckle.

He said the two logical buyers are the individual who owns the adjacent 33 Pleasant St. property and the Polly Ann Trail Management Council.

"Where Mr. Weckle fits in I don't have the foggiest idea," Schneider said.

Schneider noted how millions of dollars were spent on developing the trail and yet, "We don't have one parking space in the entire village allocated to the trail."

"Maybe the highest and best use for this property is a pocket park and a public parking lot," he said. "I wouldn't sell this sucker. I'd keep this thing."

Stephison felt if the village is going to provide the bumper blocks and maintenance as proposed, then "we might as well just make this a village park and be done with it because we're bearing all the responsibility."

He suggested perhaps approaching the trail council to see if it would be willing to help fund the design of a park/parking lot.

Young once again argued the benefit of selling the property is being able to bank $20,000, plus get a park and parking lot.

But Stephison cautioned against being "penny wise and pound foolish."

He wondered how much extra the village would spend paying its DPW to maintain the proposed park and parking lot, and how that would add up over time.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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