July 26, 2022 |

In Saratoga: No deal, no donation.

Dr. Michael Janssen, the owner of the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort, confirmed Monday that a $30,000 gift for Never Forget Memorial Park was linked to a land swap. After an outpouring of negative public comments about the deal, Saratoga Town Council last week rejected the swap on a 3-2 vote. With the land deal dead, Dr. Jansen said the money will now go to something else.

Until now, Janssen’s side of the story has not been known publicly. The doctor declined an interview with Bigfoot 99 earlier this year. Yesterday, Janssen said he didn’t think he or a representative needed to attend the public hearing when objections were raised about the deal, especially the relative values of his land versus a town parcel.

In his first interview regarding the land swap, Dr. Janssen said the financial gift was to be given in the memory of his father, a military veteran who passed way recently at the age of 91. Janssen said he was first contacted about the proposed park in September of last year by Joe Parsons with the American Legion post in Saratoga.

At that point Mayor Creed James became involved, Janssen said. Several options were available. Janssen could have donated his parcel on Pic Pike Road. Or the town could have purchased it outright. Instead, Janssen and James agreed to a land swap with the $30,000 donation on the side. At that point the value of the town’s property on the Overlook at Myrtle and Veterans was unknown. Janssen’s property had not been appraised, either.

So basically the deal to swap the parcels was agreed to in general terms before an assessor was hired or the surveys completed. In fact, an official survey report from Whitlock Appraisal dated June 20th states that the market value of Janssen’s 14,864 square feet lot was based on “the hypothetical condition that is already been split from the larger parcel of record, as of the effective date of May 9, 2022, in order to aid or support decisions related to exchanging the property for another one currently owned by the client.” The client was the town, which held a keen interest in Janssen’s property because it could be incorporated into Never Forget Memorial Park.

In fact, the early design drawings of the park apparently included Janssen’s parcel as part of the concept. Janssen was interested in the town’s lot on the Overlook because it adjoins a 45-acre parcel he owns there.

When the appraisals were finished early this summer, they revealed a significant disparity in the value of the two properties. At 20,000 square feet, the town property on the Overlook is 5,000 square feet larger than Janssen’s and more valuable. The Overlook property assessed at $62,500. Jansen’s property is valued at $45,000. The difference was $17,500 in the town’s favor. Despite the lopsided values, the terms of the one-to-one swap did not change in light of the appraisals.

At last week’s public hearing on the swap, the primary theme of residents who objected said the town was not receiving a fair value for its property. Largely based on those objections, the deal was rejected by Town Council.

Janssen said he is disappointed that the land deal did not go through, but said he doesn’t need the town’s lot on the Overlook. He added that he feels insulted that some people feel that the $30,000 gift from his father for the memorial park was an attempt to sweeten 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.

Janssen said going back and surveying a smaller piece of land on the Overlook to achieve more of an equal value with his lot on Pic Pike Road would only add to the cost of the venture. Nor did any member of town council make a motion last week to abandon the one-to-one swap and seek pursuing a new contract with Janssen to include more money for the Overlook parcel in light of the appraisals.

Janssen said after Mayor James informed him of town council’s decision, his family decided to donate the $30,000 to another cause.

The project is moving forward, although with some uncertainty now that the land deal is off the table. We’ll have the latest on that part of the story tomorrow. The decision to pull the donation confirms the suspicions raised at the public hearing that the gift was contingent upon the deal.

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