Thursday, February 26, 2009

Maratea balks at offer -- St. Augustine Beach's lower offer 'laughable,' says land owner

Maratea balks at offer--St. Augustine Beach's lower offer 'laughable,' says land owner

Special to The St. Augustine Record
Publication Date: 02/26/09

One of the principal owners of the Maratea tract is hopping mad with the City of St. Augustine Beach, and he sent a scathing e-mail to City Manager Max Royle this week, chastising the city for lowering its offer to $4.5 million for the property.

The new offer is about $1.2 million less than the amount discussed between the city and the property owners last August, when voters agreed to up to half a mill in property taxes to pay the long-term debt to acquire the first 11 acres of the land, which the city wants to turn into a public park.

Since then he city has had the land reappraised ,and the new, lower offer reflects the new appraisal. It was done on Feb. 13 by Lampe, Roy and Associates of Jacksonville at the recommendation of City Attorney Geoff Dobson.

In the letter, one of the principal owners, Douglas C. Bush, president of SSW & Bush Contractors, LLC, called the new offer "laughable and inflammatory.

"You have wasted a year of our time, made us look like greedy developers and cast a bad light on the value of the property in the public and had it published," Bush wrote.

"This is the reward we get for working tirelessly with you and the county to achieve what you told us you were doing in the best interest of the citizens of the City Of St. Augustine Beach and St. Johns County. You had us believing the City was committed to make this purchase and that the citizens had spoken on the subject and so we went along with you. In the end this is total [expletive deleted]."

Bush also called the new appraisal and offer "damaging to what may be the real value of our property."

"We would never (have) agreed to you presenting what we feel (is) incorrect and inaccurate data as to the value of our land to the public," Bush wrote. "I feel damaged and cheated.

Bush could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mayor Frank Charles said he was "extremely displeased" with the letter.

"I didn't care for the e-mail at all," he said Wednesday. "I knew they wouldn't be happy with the lower offer, but I didn't expect that kind of reaction. I certainly didn't expect them to blame us."

Charles said he expected a representative of the property owners to be at the upcoming City Commission meeting on Monday. Charles said he will be out of town that day and may not be able to attend the meeting himself. In that case, the vice mayor, Brud Helhoski would speak for the city.

If the city and the owners cannot reach an agreement, then the city may have to hold off on the purchase, the mayor said. If that happens, the city would not impose the half mil increase approved for the purchase, Charles said.

"I know our attorney has advised us that cities do sometimes pay more than appraised value for properties, but I'm not ready to spend more than a million dollars more than it's worth, especially when the city is struggling with its budget due to the economy," Charles said. "I think it's time we go back to the public on this. I certainly would like to hear from them. A lot of people who voted for this initially may have changed their minds."

Charles said he hoped residents would turn out to speak about the issue at Monday's meeting, 7 p.m., St. Augustine Beach City Hall, 2200 A1A S.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

No comments: