By Etta Walsh
CHICOPEE – Tempers flared earlier this week, as the mayor and one of his challengers in the upcoming election clashed over the value of a 30-acre parcel the city wants to buy for conservation reasons.
Mayor Michael Bissonnette and At-large City Councilor Shane Brooks, who seeks to unseat the mayor in November, sparred over the $450,000 value placed on the property by Crowley Real Estate Appraisers Inc., of Springfield.
The two men exchanged some heated words at a meeting on the matter held Monday in the Chicopee Library, to inform lower Granby Road residents about the proposal.
Brooks contends that the appraisal figure is too high, citing the city’s tax assessors’ valuation of $403,100 for the entire, 32-acre site. Crowley’s appraisal left out 1.5 acres of the parcel, at the mayor’s direction.
Bissonnette said the Crowley appraisal is based on the fair-market value of the 30 acres appraised. He directed the Springfield appraiser to leave out 1.5 acres because, while the appraisal was being conducted, his office was still negotiating with property owner Yves Demers, he said.
“We decided to err on the side of caution,” Bissonnette said. “We wanted to keep the appraisal price as low as possible.”
The city is seeking a state LAND (Land Acquisitions for Natural Diversity) grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs to finance 70 percent of the cost of acquiring the land, with the city kicking in about $135,000.
Demers has offered to sell most of the parcel to Chicopee for $500,000. As part of his agreement, he would retain two 100-by-100-foot parcels to build two single-family homes there.
The owner originally sought to build 16 homes on the parcel, but city officials said the marshy area, bordered by Nelson Road and the Chicopee River, only offered 5.5 acres suitable for building five or six homes. Abutters said they wanted the area left as a nature preserve.
Brooks said the parcel’s valuation was based on faulty information.
“This is based on a ton of assumptions and what-ifs,” Brooks said of the appraisal. “I suggest the appraisal may not be accurate.”
He also complained that a packet of material that Bissonnette provided to City Council members, who must approve any purchase of the land, was lacking key information.
Bissonnette said he provided the Council with all information that was available at the time, on March 17.
Gesturing to the 90 people who attended the meeting, the mayor said he wanted to inform neighbors who would be most affected by the project, about the conservation proposal.
“This is transparent,” he said.
Following the meeting, Brooks again criticized the mayor, saying the Crowley appraisal of Demers’ property “was based on a subdivision plan created by the owner” rather than independent data.
The fact that Demers planned to keep two building parcels for private development was not shared with council members, he said.
“If the mayor didn’t know that, on March 17, when he presented (the packet of information) to the City Council, he certainly should have known,” Brooks said.
The mayor said if the state DEEA wants a second appraisal of the parcel, it has the power to order it.
“If the state wants a second appraisal, that’s fine with me,” he said. The difference between Crowley’s $450,000 valuation and that of city assessors, at $403,100, “is less than the price of one building lot,” he said.
He said that Brooks, and other council members who are objecting to his handling of the matter, could de-rail the opportunity to buy the property and turn it into the nature preserve that neighbors want.
“We need to get the grant, first,” Bissonnette said. “I wish everyone would focus on that instead of trying to kill this (conservation proposal) in its crib.”
There are 16 applications on file for only three grants available from the DEEA, he said.
Tempers flare over purchase of 30 acre parcel
By Etta Walsh