Monday, March 20, 2006

Now Let's Really Preserve "The Preserve" in Old Saybrook

The great news out of Old Saybrook over the weekend is that the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission voted to deny the developers of “The Preserve” a permit to construct their project near the 934-acre property’s many swamps and streams. Last month the state DEP turned down a request by the developers to build an access road across a state park. So the project – 221 houses and an 18-hole golf course – is undoubtedly in the ICU, if not on life support.

But of course it’s not enough to stop the development through the regulatory and approval process (as rare as that may be). Now the state and the town have to find the money to buy the land and turn it into a real preserve, not an Orwellian one.

The good news is that the spokesman for the owners, River Sound Development LLC, a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, seems to recognize that the project is going nowhere fast and is willing to sit down to talk about a sale.

So how much is it worth? The New Haven Register said River Sound wants “up to $20 million.” The Hartford Courant said the developers want $23 million and that their spokesman compared the property to a piece that recently sold for $38 million.

Talk is cheap – cheaper than land, certainly. But in this case, the land is almost without doubt a lot cheaper than what the developer is saying it’s worth. Land derives its value from what appraisers call its highest and best use – that is, what the land can be developed into. Obviously the land in Old Saybrook can’t be developed into 221 houses and a golf course. So if that’s where the $23 million figure comes from, you can start subtracting from there. Here are my earlier thoughts on what the land is worth and why it can be difficult to reach an agreement with the government.

Here’s hoping all sides are reasonable, and that the state and the towns can come up with the dough.


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