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UConn Files Appeal for West Hartford’s Assessment of Campus Property

The former UConn West Hartford campus, which includes 58 acres and several buildings, stands largely vacant. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The University of Connecticut has filed an appeal challenging the Town of West Hartford’s assessed value of more than $24 million for the for campus property.

By Ronni Newton

The University of Connecticut, which currently maintains ownership of the nearly 58-acre former UConn Greater Hartford campus on Asylum Avenue in West Hartford, filed an appeal Tuesday disputing the town’s assessment of just over $24 million for the property.

“As a state agency, UConn does not pay property taxes. However, UConn plans to sell the property and a private purchaser will be taxed on its value after acquiring it,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said in an email. “Since the deadline to dispute the assessment is this week, the University is challenging the assessment now to preserve the yet-undetermined purchaser’s right to continue the appeal after the property changes hands.”

West Hartford Assessor Joseph Dakers Sr. confirmed that UConn filed the appeal Tuesday, challenging the assessment of the two parcels owned by the University – 1700 Asylum Ave. and 1800 Asylum Ave.

The 1700 Asylum Ave. parcel is about 24 acres, Dakers said, and consists of a large parking lot as well as ball fields and a playground on the east side of Trout Brook Drive that are leased to the Town of West Hartford. That parcel is assessed at $2,237,200, he said.

The 1800 Asylum Ave. parcel is the main campus property, which includes five buildings totaling about 193,000 square feet on 33.9 acres. The parcel is assessed at $21,981,680, Dakers said.

“They are contesting the value and filed two petitions,” Dakers said Tuesday. “But they are basing [the appeal] on the purchase and sale agreement with the Town of West Hartford that was never consummated,” he said.

“They want to use an unfulfilled indicator of market value” as a challenge, Dakers said, which is not something the town would ever use. “We use a completed sale, with a willing buyer and willing seller, under no duress. This is not even a transaction. It never occurred,” he said.

After conducting a nearly 18-month due diligence process that began in July 2016, the West Hartford Town Council voted in December 2017 to terminate the purchase and sale agreement with UConn due to the uncertain and potentially significant costs of remediating the property. The original purchase price was $5 million, and in April 2017 both the town and UConn agreed to drop the price to $1 million after the discovery of a greater-than-anticipated level of PCBs on the site. UConn extended the due diligence period seven times, with the final deadline set at Dec. 15, 2017.

UConn vacated the campus in August 2o17 when the Downtown Hartford campus opened. A small number of employees remain in the Agricultural Extension office, but are expected to relocate this summer, Reitz said.

“UConn began accepting inquiries from potential buyers after the town declined to purchase the property,” Reitz said in her email. West Hartford is also undergoing a community engagement process in the hopes of creating a vision for the property and ultimately attracting a developer to purchase it.

“A lower tax liability will also make the property more attractive to potential buyers,” Reitz said.

Dakers said that while the property is currently tax exempt, at the current appraisal it would generate about $994,000 in taxes. The state, which is supposed to pay the town a percentage of that amount under the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for state-owned property, hasn’t paid anything close to that, Dakers said.

The town gets an aggregated PILOT payment not broken down by property, but Dakers said that he was in touch with the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM) on Tuesday and confirmed that for FY2018, West Hartford received nothing, and the most recent budget adjustment proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recommends $16,000 in PILOT for the property.

Tuesday was the final date for filing assessment appeal petitions, Dakers said, and appointments will be now be scheduled with the Board of Assessment Appeals. The Board will meet in mid-March, he said.

About 150 requests for appeal have been received this year overall, Dakers said, about half the number received in 2017. Last year was a revaluation year, and there were 314 appeals filed.

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