Little Neck appraisal should be released - Ipswich, MA - Ipswich Chronicle.
Remarkably, the Feoffees (trustees) for the 360 year old trust created for the benefit of the public schools of Ipswich by a forward-thinking and public-spirited landholder when he donated to his community -- forever -- a beautiful 32-acre almost-island in trust. The conditions included the provisions that (1) the Feoffees should collect market-level rents and (2) that the land could never be sold. Little Neck has 167 lots, and the tenants own their cottages, the majority of which are 70 to 90 years old and under 1000 square feet, on lots of 3000 to 5000 square feet. The tenants pay land rent to the Feoffees, which is supposed to be paid to the schools of Ipswich.
Well, the Feoffees have failed to collect market rents, and the tenants seem to think that that might be sufficient reason for them to be able to buy the land -- and at a very moderate price!
After the jump, you can read three recent articles, and the comments to date.
As you read this, remember that about 1/4 of the Little Neck tenants are also year-round residents of inland Ipswich, and are likely well-known to the Feoffees. This may tend to create some conflicts of interest between the Feoffees' role as trustees of this property for the benefit of the public school system -- forever -- and their role as good neighbors to some of Ipswich's long-time residents.
Click on the "Feoffees' land" link at left to read all the posts on this topic; I've been intrigued with this story since I first read about it in 2008.
The newest appraisal is 50% higher than the previous one -- but still only about half of what I estimate Little Neck's land to be worth.
Sometime, someone is going to have to say what Little Neck is worth — someone other than the Feoffees and the Little Neck tenant’s association who value the land at $29 million.
The FinCom commissioned an independent appraisal of the same land, but that value has been locked behind the closed doors of executive session for most of the summer.
Apparently, letting Ipswich taxpayers know how much their land is worth via an independent appraisal would disrupt negotiations over the sale of the Little Neck land trust to the Little Neck tenants.
The tenants now rent the land from the Feoffees, but own their buildings.
The Feoffees oversee the Little Neck land trust to benefit the Ipswich Public Schools, but haven’t paid anything to support the schools for several years.
The Feoffees hope to sell the land for $29 million to a Little Neck condo association made up mostly of current tenants.
The terms of the trust forbid the sale of the land and the School Committee and the Feoffees are fighting over the sale in court.
“I’m not able to reveal the outcome of the most recent appraisal (done for the Finance Committee). The proposed sale to the tenants is for $29 million. The Feoffees’ Attorney Bill Sheehan has alleged that is supported by an appraisal,” said FinCom member Michael Schaaf.
“The School Committee can’t comment further because it does affect our negotiating position,” School Committee Chairman Hugh O’Flynn said.
Translation: The independent appraisal is so much higher than the Feoffee’s sale price that if the public found out, there would be riots on Market Street — or people would at least speak angrily over coffee at Zumi’s and Marty’s Donuts.
In all likelihood, town officials fear revealing the independent appraisal would inflame public opinion and derail any hope of a settlement.
To which we say: Good.
If the Feoffees valuation is so far off from the independent appraisal, any deal should be derailed and fast.
Schaaf said a third appraisal might be needed. That is probably the best route to take at this point. Most accurate appraisals require three estimates. If the FinCom goes forward with another appraisal, another appraiser, independent of the Feoffees, should perform the work.
If the second, independent appraisal comes in much higher than the $29 million, as the first independent appraisal appears to have done, the FinCom, the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen will have firmer ground to stand on.
But, at some point in this process, the FinCom must release the independent appraisals to the public — and long before any possible deal between the town and the Feoffees may be reached over the proposed Little Neck sale.
The taxpayers have a right to know what their land is worth.
and the second article:
Town officials have yet to release what an independent appraisal says Little Neck is worth, nor has consensus been reached on the value.
The Feoffees, the board of trustees that oversees the Little Neck land trust, places the value at $29 million.
The independent appraisal has been kept behind closed, executive-session doors for much of the summer.
The Board of Selectmen, the FinCom and the School Committees have been meeting in executive sessions all summer long to discuss a proposed settlement between the Feoffees and Little Neck tenant association to sell Little Neck and convert the cottages to condominiums.
Due to disagreement about the results of the Ipswich Finance Committee’s consultant appraisal compared to the value of Little Neck determined by the Feoffees officials are discussing the possibility of doing another appraisal.
An executive session was held last week with the Ipswich School Committee and Feoffees to discuss the Little Neck proposal.
FinCom member Michael Schaaf was unable to attend last week’s meeting since he was notified one-hour before it occurred. The Feoffees are responsible for posting their own meetings, he said.
The Little Neck property appraisal “is still in discussion relative to the negotiation with the School Committee and the Feoffees. Appraising is both a science and an art. Some folks have said indeed that perhaps another appraisal would be useful,” said Schaaf.
“I’m not able to reveal the outcome of the most recent appraisal (done for the Finance Committee). The proposed sale to the tenants is for $29 million. The Feoffees’ Attorney Bill Sheehan has alleged that is supported by an appraisal,” Schaaf said.
The centuries old trust with the Feoffees of the Grammar School forbids sale of the land and the School Committee has filed litigation opposing the sale of Little Neck in probate court, which needs to approve changes in the will for the Little Neck sale to go forward.
A review of the Finance Committee’s appraisal was paid for by the School Committee to make sure it was sound and that hasn’t been released, said Ed Traverso, School Committee member.
“I can’t understand how a decision of this magnitude involving so much resource can be made by just the School Committee and the Feoffees without involving the whole town. I think the final decision on the sale, the price and everything else, ought to be handled through the Town Meeting. It is that important. It is at least a $29 million and might be as much as a $40 million asset,” said Traverso.
The recent meeting between the School Committee and Feoffees was considered “a reasonably productive, friendly meeting with the full contingent of Feoffees, including Selectmen Feoffees, except for lifetime Feoffee Jimmy Foley,” said School Committee Chairman Hugh O’Flynn. “It was nice to get face-to-face with the actual Feoffees not just their lawyer. We didn’t discuss the Feoffees governance.”
In regard to the Finance Committee’s decision not to release its appraisal of Little Neck to the public, “The School Committee can’t comment further because it does affect our negotiating position,” O’Flynn said.
“The public and others are very interested in this matter that is why we have tried to position the School Committee and the Town most effectively to maximize the price in the interest of the school children. We are sympathetic to public knowledge of this information, but also know negotiations can be delicate. It has been determined that temporarily the negotiations could be affected adversely by releasing the Finance Committee’s appraisal,” said Schaaf.
“I can’t give you a timeframe, but everyone involved is aware of and sympathetic to the public having complete transparency about this. Part of the problem in my judgment with the Feoffees is their absence of transparency for years,” said Schaaf.
Although attendees at the recent executive session gained a clearer understanding of positions by both parties no conclusions resulted.
“This is a matter of active negotiation. I can’t see it trudging along for months without a tangible change. I can’t predict resolution since it could get complicated legally. We are working on this hard as three independent bodies, the Selectmen, Finance Committee and School Committee, striving to achieve unity in the negotiation,” said Schaaf.
and now a third, reporting the new appraisal:
A private appraisal the Ipswich Finance Committee commissioned values the 35-acre drumlin at $42.5 million.
The current tenants of Little Neck and the Feoffees have reached an agreement to sell the land to a tennant's condominium association for $29.5 million.
Little Neck is a land trust charged with providing revenue to support the Ipswich schools, which the Feoffees of the Grammar School administer under a 1650 will.
The Feoffees have paid nothing to the schools for several years.
The Feoffees hope to sell the land to the current Little Neck tenants, who own their cottages but rent the land from the Feoffees.
The School Committee is fighting the sale in probate court because the original will stipulates the land will never be sold.
The Chronicle will update this story.
This blog has more observations and history on this story. See them collected at http://lvtfan.typepad.com/lvtfans_blog/feoffees-land/.