The release of a 2005 appraisal of the property on Kings Highway East has stirred concern among some residents about the public purchase of the nearly 19-acre property.
The borough and commissioners . The 2005 appraisal valued the property at $8 million.
Public reaction to the gap in the purchase price and the seven-year-old appraisal may have been muted by the timing of the release of the document at 3 p.m. on Friday, on the eve of the Labor Day weekend. The issue of the appraisal and value of the property had been raised in several public meetings in July.
Borough officials agreed to release the appraisal in a work session meeting on Aug. 28. Administrator Sharon McCullough said a statement that accompanied the document was finally approved by Thursday afternoon and the appraisal was released the next day.
"As our statement said, we completed the negotiations with Bancroft so it was no reason to withhold it any longer," Commissioner Ed Borden said.
The commissioners and the BOE were peppered with questions about the appraisal and the value of the land during three public meetings in July. Efforts to sell the Bancroft property started more than a decade ago. The center for people with developmental disabilities and acquired brain injuries has been located there for nearly 130 years.
The property has been viewed as a oasis in this built-out, 2.5-square-mile historic town. Proposed plans for its redevelopment have included market-rate and age-restricted housing, a nursing home and open-space preservation. The BOE spearheaded a plan to buy the property after a consensus on several other development options failed to win public approval. Bancroft is located next to on Kings Highway East and development plans include the demolition of existing buildings, development of new athletic fields and parking and the preservation of open space.
A referendum on the $16.8 million proposal for purchase and development of the property is scheduled next January.
A local Internet chat room, Haddonfield Talks, gauged reaction to the appraisal over the weekend.
"So in 2005, at the height of the real-estate boom, the property was appraised at $8 million and today, at arguably the bleakest period for real estate values in history, we are paying $12 million and expect to spend another $5 million to develop the site?" said a comment from 'haddonhumble.'
"These people are insane and may actually be criminal! People sue over a plywood fence but we all just sit around quietly while nearly $20 million (don't worry, it will exceed that number before they drive the first nail) just blows away with the wind. Completely crazy!"
Borough Solicitor Mario Iavicoli said Tuesday that the seven-year-old appraisal has little value now for an accurate assessment of the property's value. He also said the appraisal was based on half-acre lots which restricted the number of homes that could have been built and thus depressed the potential value of the property.
"You gotta understand that appraisal is based on facts which are not relevant any longer," Iavocoli said. "The appraisal said a developer who had to tear everything down couldn't pay more than about $8 million for the property. But, if you change the zoning and allow a developer to put 100 houses on it, now the property goes up in value."
Iavocoli and Borden agreed that the prime location of the property, next to the high school, contributes to the price agreed on for the public purchase, which will include a bond by the BOE and open-space grants secured by the borough.
Iavocoli said he and borough officials decided to release the appraisal now because a sale price was finally agreed on. He said the document was not subject to release, even with an Open Public Records Act request, because it was deemed to be key in negotiating a fair price for the purchase of a property.