Commissioner questions appraisal of shoreline property

While she understands the value of preserving a unique beachfront property on South Whidbey, an Island County commissioner recently said she was perturbed by an appraisal she felt over-inflated its value.

“I just think the price is way out of of line,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said. “I think it’s a fantasy price, not a market price,”

Johnson’s concerns led to lengthy discussions over two days about how property is valued, but ultimately the other two commissioners said they were satisfied with explanations and would support awarding the funding that will save the property from development.

The issue will be back on the commissioners’ agenda on July 16.

The discussion started Tuesday when the board considered three applications for funding from Conservation Futures, a land-preservation program funded by property taxes.

Whidbey Camano Land Trust, a nonprofit organization, requested $210,000 to be used as a 10 percent local match for purchasing the Pearson Shoreline property, which consists of 54 acres with 2,820 feet of shoreline.

The land is located on Humphrey Road near Glendale and will have public access.

The sticking point, at least for one commissioner, was that the Land Trust’s appraiser valued the property at $2 million, while the Island County Assessor’s Office set the assessed value at about $500,000.

Johnson said the county shouldn’t pay four times the assessed value, even if it’s funding just a portion of the total cost.

“My fundamental concern is we’re getting appraisals to match the price the property owner wants to receive,” she said, “and we’re paying that for fear of losing the property, and we’re not paying the actual amount the property is worth.”

The commissioners asked the Assessor’s Office to attend the work session the following day and explain the discrepancy.

Chief Deputy Assessor Jason Joiner said that, under law, county assessors have to set assessments on a “parcel by parcel” basis and can’t consider things like common ownership of adjacent properties or market potential.

Appraisers, on the other hand, may consider the “what if” scenarios and highest and best uses, he said.

Joiner said the appraiser took a “valid and reasonable approach” and reached a valid conclusion.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said there was no evidence that the property owner swayed the appraisal and added that she would worry the price would increase if the county got its own appraisal. She said her concern was preserving the property and providing the public with access to the beach.

Commissioner Janet St. Clair also pointed out that the “fragile and incredibly important” shoreline has large eel grass beds, which play a vital role in salmon restoration. She said she didn’t see enough evidence to overturn the appraisal.

But Johnson wasn’t convinced. She said the appraisal was based on “highest and best use” development that could never happen in reality because of steep slopes, setbacks on critical areas, a lack of perk and other issues.

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