MacFarlan easement sparks more debate

Stevens asks that Elling recuse himself from vote; questions continue about procedure

By P.J. D’Annunzio, Staff Writer,

Kennett Township Supervisors Scudder Stevens (left) and Robert Hammaker discuss a potential easement, Monday night.

KENNETT — At first, it seemed to be just another run of the mill vote. However, when Supervisor Scudder Stevens asked that Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Elling exclude himself from the proceedings due to alleged procedural misconduct, a debate was sparked between the two supervisors that encompassed most of this month’s BOS meeting.

While all three supervisors said they were for the easement itself,  Stevens and Hammaker said they were uncomfortable with the manner in which the proceedings were conducted.

“I want to request that Mike Elling recuse himself from this deliberation since he has been actively involved in all aspects of its creation. He obviously cannot act impartially in deliberations regarding its appropriateness as a township purchase,” Stevens said alluding to Elling’s initialing of documents provided by North American Land Trust — the organization brokering the deal — apparently without the consent of the BOS.

The easement in question pertains to the proposed acquisition of portions of the Schmidt property located on the Southeast corner of Hillendale and MacFarlan roads, comprising roughly 9 acres, a house, barn, and several out-facilities. Once purchased by the Township, sections of the property would be incorporated into a trail network in the Red Clay Valley.

Stevens also concluded that the appraisal for the property was out of date — as any appraisal used after a 60-day period is considered to be, he said — and thus would be in conflict with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations he referenced in a presentation to the Township.

Schmidt’s property was originally listed on June 18, 2011 for $1,195,000 and at the time of the meeting had been on the market in excess of 242 days. The price has been lowered to $997,000. “Nevertheless, the appraisal uses a value of $1,395,000 to calculate the conservancy easement value,” Stevens said. “This price is inflated significantly. In addition, its comparables are inappropriate to the property and neighborhood.”

“I’m not going to address the details of what you mentioned in your presentation,” Elling responded. “I pick on one particular point concerning the date of the appraisal. If the date of the appraisal was a concern—and I’m not aware whatsoever of the 60-days you’re referring to—that would invalidate every conservation easement that has been put forth in Kennett Township.”

“That may be so, fortunately the IRS did not discover it,” Stevens said. “In this case it is over 60 days; it is not a proper appraisal.”

“Don’t lose track of the fact that we’re not voting on the conservation easement,” Elling said. “We’re only voting on an agreement to prepare the easement. If in the preparation of the easement they come across many of the things you have identified here, they will be addressed.  If they’re not addressed properly my motion is clear, and that is the motion to accept this agreement, to purchase the conservation rights is contingent upon—and I cannot express it any further—everything that you have mentioned will be vetted and taken care of to out—that is the board of supervisors—satisfaction.”

The debate continued with the supervisors unable to reach a consensus to either pass or table the motion. Stevens and Elling deliberated over the accuracy of the appraisal numbers; Stevens alleging they were inflated and inaccurate, Elling attesting that they were neither misleading nor illegal. Elling then restated his motion to approve the preparation of the easement.

“I’ve got a problem with this Michael,” Hammaker said, and the meeting was once again thrust into public debate, with an abundance of questions from residents regarding Elling’s lone initialing of documents.

Stevens took issue with Elling seemingly committing the township to expense without public input — or that of his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.

“In regards to the charges to North American Land Trust, Mike has already committed this board and this township to paying a sum of money, it has not come before this board, it has not come into a public meeting,” Stevens said. “We are committed to paying $20,000 plus $10,000 for the preparation of the paperwork involved. So that’s something that was done, and if this deal came apart — and I sincerely hope that it does not — we would still be committed for time and materials expended by North American Land Trust to get us to the point where it would come apart.”

Elling defended his actions.

“Let me explain why I initialed that original agreement with North American Land Trust,” Elling responded. “They were on tenterhooks wondering where this thing was going. I gave them some confidence by doing that, but I said to them that it would not be valid until it was vetted in a public meeting.”

Responding to a citizen’s question, Elling stated that the Township owed no money to NALT until the deal was finalized by the Board.

When all was said and done the supervisors agreed to table the vote on the easement until next month’s BOS meeting.

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