August 30, 2012The December 2011 appraisal commissioned by Guilford County Schools of the 10 acres on Shadybrook Road in High Point – which the City of High Point wants to buy to expand its Miracle Field for children with disabilities – is based on a hypothetical zoning of the property, as High Point officials have said all along.
The 10-acre lot is owned by the Guilford County Board of Education, which once proposed building a middle school on the land but now acknowledges that it doesn't need one in the area. The school board, based on the December appraisal, wants High Point to pay $400,000 for the property.
The December appraisal was performed by Foster Appraisal Services Inc. of Greensboro and valued the property at $400,000 based on a "highest and best use" of the property for multifamily dwellings under a Residential Multifamily 8 (RM-8) zoning. The Foster appraisal claims that the north half of the 10-acre property is zoned public institutional and the south half is zoned RM-8.
High Point Planning and Development Director Lee Burnette, however, said that was incorrect. He said that part of the property has a residential land-use designation, but that the entire property is zoned public institutional. That and four bucks will get you a cup of coffee; the school board would still have to get the City Council to rezone the property for residential use.
According to High Point Assistant Manager Pat Pate, one small slice of the 10-acre property – a slice of about an acre acquired by the City of High Point from Cridlebaugh Properties Limited Partnership, an old land-owning family partnership that has townhouses on another adjacent property – was originally zoned multi-family residential, although the entire 10 acres has since been rezoned public institutional. The acre continues to have a land-use designation of multifamily.
High Point City Manager Strib Boynton on April 11, 2012, wrote Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green offering to buy the 10 acres for the 2011 county assessed tax value of $294,300.
On June 13, 2012, Green wrote Boynton asking that the City of High Point conduct a separate appraisal of the property. On July 10, 2012, High Point Mayor Becky Smothers defended the $294,300 price in a letter to school board Chairman Alan Duncan, and on August 8, 2012, Duncan replied, rejecting High Point's offer based on price but indicating that the school board would consider a higher price.
The Foster appraisal makes clear that the company based the $400,000 on a hypothetical sale on the open market of the property if it were entirely zoned RM-8. The company ignores the property's history as a pawn in a struggle between High Point and Guilford County Schools over control of the combined Miracle Field/High Point Athletic/A.J. Simeon Stadium complex.
In a way, such a sale is theoretically possible, although the High Point City Council won't rezone the property to all RM-8. To sell the property to High Point, the school board would have to declare it surplus, give the Guilford County Board of Commissioners first refusal of the property and accept any higher upset bids that came in.
In reality, the High Point City Council controls the zoning of the property, and its known desire for the property makes an upset bid unlikely. Also, Smothers said there is a contract between the school system and High Point that prohibits any use of the property other than for a school or for recreational facilities.
The school board got the property in a 2007 deal with High Point, which wanted the land on which the Miracle Field now sits. The school board kept the 10 acres in hopes of building a middle school there.
In the "highest and best use analysis" in the Foster appraisal, the company said that, after researching the High Point real estate market and talking with High Point brokers, it found that "the likely use of the subject [property] for residential development appears feasible in the future and would return the highest rate of return to the property when the market turns around."
It would, if the property could be used for residential development. According to High Point, it can't.
The Foster appraisal acknowledged that rezoning would be necessary to develop the property for residences and cites High Point city planner Mark Schroeder as saying that a rezoning of the northern half of the property to residential was likely.
"The appraisers are of the opinion that the highest and best use of the site is for multi-family residential," the appraisal states. "A change in zoning would be necessary to pursue this highest and best use."
In Smothers' July 10 letter, however, she not only defended the $294,300 High Point was offering but attacked the school board's asking price, in what was, in retrospect, an attack on the Foster appraisal.
Smothers wrote, "Any other uses would require a rezoning which would contradict the contract terms and would not be compatible with the surrounding land uses."
The City Council would have to find that any other use was compatible with surrounding land uses to rezone it, something Smothers made clear isn't going to happen.
After Smothers' letter, the Guilford County Schools Facilities Department, instead of questioning the Foster appraisal, worked on a defense against an accusation by Smothers that Foster Appraisal Services had called Schroeder for hypothetical future zoning changes to back up the $400,000 price.
"I heard that GCS had an agent ask a City Planning staff member what other zoning use might be applied," Smothers wrote Duncan. "Perhaps this is a standard practice in an appraisal but, since there will be no other zoning use applied, the question and answer could only be seen as hypothetical as well as any subsequent value that might be suggested." That's a reference to the $400,000.
On July 25, 2012, Guilford County Schools Director of Facilities Planning Donna Bell emailed Guilford County Schools Executive Director of Facilities Management Robert Melton that Guilford County Schools didn't tell Foster Appraisal Services how to do its appraisal.
Bell quoted from the Foster appraisal that the appraisal was a summary of the data and reasoning behind the $400,000 number. She wrote, "As a result, the statement by Mayor Smothers that 'GCS had an agent ask a City Planning staff member what other zoning use might be applied' is inaccurate."
The appraisal, however, attributes the zoning prediction (which he had no authority to make) to Schroeder – making it irrelevant whether Foster Appraisal Services called him, read something he had written or gotten the information from him telepathically.
The point is that the company based its appraisal on a hypothetical zoning change that isn't going to happen, and which the company, with a little digging, would have known wasn't going to happen – making the $400,000 figure suspect.