The Zinke Land Deal Just Gets More Infuriating

After attending the January 13, 2011 Town Council meeting, hearing Jim Torgeson speak out, and then reading his two letters to the Mayor and Council members, plus having “scanned” the 1349-page retroactive appraisal completed by Dennis Lopez, as well as read David Birnbaum’s 21-page legal analysis, I am fearful that if the three incumbent council members who approved this trainwreck are re-elected, we will be treated to more trainwrecks just like it.

The findings surrounding the Zinke appraisal are disturbing. First, the date hand selected by Town staff for Mr. Lopez to use as the retroactive appraisal date was 2/1/2008. While there may be some esoteric, Byzantine “justification” that only a bureaucrat can explain for such a date, that date makes no logical sense and should infuriate Gilbert taxpayers, who just paid $16,000 for the appraisal.

Why choose 2/1/2008? The Council approved the purchase in January 2009, and the deal closed in February. If you were purchasing a home, would you accept an appraisal that is one year old, during a market which is collapsing by the second into what finally has resulted in the worst banking and real estate catastrophe in American history?

Jim Torgeson, a local Gilbert resident and businessman, is angry about what appears to be blind acceptance by the Council of whatever information they are given by staff, as long as it is accompanied by the phrase, “in our professional judgment. “ That line is wearing pretty thin these days. I have posted excerpts from Mr. Torgeson’s letters on Gilbert Watch titled: "Zinke: Jim Torgeson’s Letter to the Town Council."

Other issues that cannot be ignored are these:

1) The Town has asserted that, at the time, the Zinke lands were the most desirable to purchase. Really? Where is the supporting documentation? Land all around the Zinke property have since sold at far cheaper prices. Was "suitable" not good enough? Also, of all landowners, why choose Zinke, who they knew would be a formidable opponent in any imminent domain battle?

2) Let’s not forget that this $43 million land deal has been financed. A 5% interest rate on various outstanding Gilbert Municipal bonds is $2 million per year. If it takes 17 years to pay it off, are we talking about close to $100 million? And that doesn’t take into consideration making it "park ready."

3) In the Town’s chronology, former Town Manager George Pettit chose the $300,000 per acre price because Zinke "told" him that he had received a verbal offer of the same price from a home builder. Verbal? Pettit matches the "verbal" offer?

4) Mr. Zinke is supposedly required to remediate the property. To what standard? EPA? Portions of this land have housed thousands of dairy cattle over many years. Imagine the soil conditions and to what depth? Consider gasoline and pesticide storage and spills, underground tanks, and contamination you’ve never even thought of.

It has been stated by Town staff that the “totality of this negotiation will benefit the Town well past our memories of it.” Well, that’s true. In one hundred years, we will all be dead and gone and it won’t matter.

Incumbents Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier, and Les Presmyk, all currently running for re-election, agreed to this purchase, never asking to see an appraisal. Of course, part of the problem was that Town Staff never obtained an appraisal, and the Town attorney never signed off on either the 80-acre parcel or the 62-acre parcel purchase contracts.

To this day, Linda Abbott defends her actions. Think twice about who you want to put in charge of your tax dollars.