July 21, 2022 |

Following a 40-minute public hearing, Saratoga Town Council Tuesday night voted 3-2 against a proposed land swap with a private property owner.

Most of the comments opposed trading a strip of private land on Pic Pike Road with a town parcel on the Overlook at Myrtle and Veterans. One by one, residents questioned the accuracy of the appraisals, whether the town was getting the short end of a bad deal and even whether the so-called monetary “gift” attached to the exchange passes a sniff test.

The town is interested in the private parcel on Pic Pike Road, which appraised for $45,000, because it could be incorporated into Never Forget Memorial Park. The owner of the property, Dr. Michael Janssen, is interested in the town parcel, which appraised at $62,500, because it expands the property holdings he owns on the Overlook and provides improved access. Both the town and the private lots are undeveloped now.

Saratoga resident Mike Cooley was the first to rise after the public hearing came to order. Cooley questioned the basic fairness of the deal.

Pictured above: File photo of vacant lot adjacent to Veteran’s Island park near the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort. Photo by Bigfoot 99.

The apples and oranges comparison was a theme throughout the public hearing. In spite of the disparity, the private parcel appraised at a slightly higher square foot price. This caused another resident, Roger Cox, to question the accuracy of the appraisal.

Mayor Creed James defended the appraisal, saying the numbers were calculated by a professionally trained appraiser.

Another number that came under scrutiny was the so-called “gift” attached to the deal. At the last council meeting, as reported by Bigfoot 99, Mayor James said the owner of the private property promised to add $25,000 as a “gift” to the park if the town agreed to the land deal. On Tuesday night, the mayor said he had misspoken, and the “gift” would actually be $30,000.

The characterization of the $30,000 as a “gift” to Never Forget Memorial Park was questioned. Councilman Jon Nelson was the first to question the sincerity of the offer.

Councilman Nelson put the question directly to the mayor, who has been the lone town official involved in the negotiations with the owner. The mayor’s response was less direct than the question, but James indicated the money offer was quid pro quo.

Even with the $30,000 kicker, one resident said the town was selling itself short. Roger Snell said the town could sell the property on the open market at a much higher price than the offer on the table.

For others, the $30,000 carrot was viewed with even darker skepticism. One comment saw it as “the rich guy buying off the town.” Councilwoman D’Ron Council said the side money gave the appearance of the town being held “hostage.”

A representative for the private property owner was not present, so the mayor was pressed to clarify how the money was linked to the deal.

Clarity about the deal was also muddied by uncertainty surrounding the appraisals. While both properties were appraised by Josh Clason, two different companies were involved. Clason appraised the town property through his own business, Hillcrest Appraisal in Buffalo, Wyoming. However, Clason doesn’t have the full licensure for commercial, so he appraised the privately owned commercial parcel the through Whitlock Appraisal of Powell. The town was required by statute to seek the appraisal. Mayor James explained the reason for having two companies involved.

The town shared the cost of the appraisals with the private property owner.

Councilman Ron Hutchins spoke in favor of the trade. Hutchins said both the town property and the private parcel have been a “pile of weeds” for decades. Hutchins said the value of the private parcel would increase once it is incorporated into the memorial park and finished with curb and gutter.

Joe Parsons, the Vice Commander of the American Legion in Saratoga, also spoke in favor of the land swap. Parsons said shelving the deal would set back the effort of finally finishing the memorial park, which has been in various phases of development for more than a decade. Removing the private parcel, would require a redesign of a smaller park, requiring more money. The end result would be a park with less parking. Parsons encouraged the council to move forward with the deal.

When public discussion ended, none of the residents who came to speak left the chamber. Time stood still for an uncomfortable moment as not single council member made a motion to proceed with the land swap. Discussion then moved to delaying a decision until the next meeting. The mayor consulted with the town attorney over the phone with counsel advising that the matter could be tabled. Instead, Councilman Nelson made a motion to reject the deal.

Councilman Ben Spaulding seconded the motion. With no options left for putting off the inevitable, council was forced to take a vote.

Bigfoot 99 will continue to follow this story and what happens next with Never Forget Memorial Park.


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