Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Polluted parkland in Yankees’ trade" MetroNY 09/05/06

Polluted parkland in Yankees’ trade
Appraisals ignore facts contained in city documents

by patrick arden / metro new york

SEP 5, 2006

SOUTH BRONX — Now that the old-growth trees have been felled and the earth-moving machines have started to dig up Macombs Dam Park, what will the residents surrounding the $1.3 billion new Yankee Stadium project be left with for replacement parks?

Polluted land, according to city and federal documents.

Under the current stadium are two 15,000-gallon oil tanks, which were found to be leaking, and soil in all of the replacement parkland contains “semi-volatile compounds and/or metals at concentrations exceeding [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] Cleanup Objectives,” noted National Park Service executive Jack Howard when he signed off on the city’s park-swap plan.

Though the contaminated land is cited in this NPS go-ahead as well as the city’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, it’s not mentioned in any of the appraisals performed to comply with federal and state laws.

Backroom deal

Under the Land and Water Conservation Act, proposals to convert federally funded parkland must be OK’d by the National Park Service. But after meeting with state, city and Yankee representatives, the NPS decided to rely on the city’s environmental impact statement instead of preparing its own assessment.

In an e-mail detailing an early June 3, 2005, conference call with the state’s office of parks, Howard wrote the city would be made “fully aware” of “the compliance responsibilities associated with the conversion process,” particularly “appraisal requirements.”

The state then insisted the city’s Parks Dept. go back twice to get new appraisals, though it never had to share them with the NPS.

Fine print

These appraisals ignored the contaminated land, in apparent violation of federal law.

According to Section D-3 of the federal Uniform Appraisal Standards, “It is improper ... to estimate the market value of a property assuming it is free of contamination when there is evidence, by the past use of the property or by the appraiser’s inspection thereof, that contamination may exist.” Appraisers can’t “make an assumption that corrupts the validity of the value estimate.”

In putting a price tag on the replacement parkland under the current Yankee Stadium and on the Harlem River, the final appraisals use the same language: “We are not aware of any environmentally hazardous or toxic substances on or near the subject site.”

That’s boilerplate language, explained Michael H. Evans, a fellow of the American Society of Appraisers, but it is misleading when the contaminants had their own chapter in the city’s project statement.

“These factors absolutely have an effect on the land’s value, and if the appraiser doesn’t mention them, that’s not right,” he said. “If it’s a known thing, and there’s been any report saying the property is tainted, appraisers must identify it’s there. The appraisal is made subject to that land being cleaned up. It can get very, very expensive.”

The state’s parks office accepted these appraisals, but it did not return repeated calls seeking an explanation for why the contamination was not factored into the final value of the land.

The replacement parcels are priced at $4.5 million more than Macombs Dam Park. “But they’re clearly not the same value,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “We knew they didn’t have the same usefulness or location. The city is swapping tennis courts surrounded by trees for a polluted area far removed from the community.”


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