When Palm Beach County set out to buy land in the north county wetlands known as Pal-Mar, two appraisers hired by the county independently reached the same conclusion about the land’s value: $25,000 per acre.
The county didn’t want to pay that much.
“I need your help,” county Project Manager Ben Williamson wrote to both appraisers in June 2022. “Consider a downward adjustment.”
The appraisers did what the county asked.
To county officials, intent on buying as much land as possible with $4 million in federal money, telling its appraisers to consider other recent land sales seemed a justifiable adjustment, a “common practice,” as one official said.
To landowners who want top dollar for their land, the county’s rejection of its first appraisal mars its credibility. The appraisers didn’t work with new information when they lowered the values by about 40 percent, the landowners said. The only thing that changed, is that the appraisers relied on nearby sales that they initially had rejected.
The clash raises questions about just how far the county can go to get the best deal for taxpayers — even if it comes at the expense of landowners, many of them out-of-state residents whose families paid little for the land decades ago.
And it underlines the flaws inherent in the appraisal process, flaws that captured national attention when unrealistic valuations laid the groundwork for the nation’s 2008 housing bust.
At risk is the county’s ability to buy and preserve hundreds of privately owned acres in northern Palm Beach County, where wetlands have flourished as the county has fended off development since the 1970s.Continue reading “Wetlands in peril: County in bidding war for Pal-Mar preserves”