Town settles with Maple Tree Place on value (again)

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

For the second time in recent years Maple Tree Place and Williston settled on the tax value of the massive retail complex, lowering the land’s value by 6.5 million from the town assessor’s evaluation.

In a 2015 reappraisal of all the properties in the town, Maple Tree Place, a 63.95-acre plot of land representing a half-million square-foot retail center (which contributes to Williston having the highest retail sales in the state,) was identified as having a value of $90 million, according to town manager Rick McGuire.

However, for the second time in their ownership of the property, Chicago-based Retail Partners of America Inc., or RPAI — formerly called Inland Western — the then-owner, appealed the new assessment, which threatened to bring the land’s taxable value up $19 million, from the last assessed value of $71,000,000 (which was held up in 2016 as the appeal continued.)

On Dec. 29, the town settled the case, accepting a judge’s order that Maple Tree Place hold an assessed value of $83.5 million for the fiscal years 2017 through 2019 (which started July 1, 2016 and end June 30, 2019.) The settlement therefore represents an increase of $12.5 million over their last assessment on the books.

While the case was ongoing, however, in August Maple Tree Place was sold for $90 million to a Texas-based retail equity firm, Cypress Equities.

The 2016 appeal was the second one made in the span of RPAI’s ownership: In 2009, the company successfully lobbied for a $37 million tax break from the town — which had then appraised the complex’s as $80.9 million — citing faltering retail sales and vacancies. Though Inland Western sought to have the appraisal dropped to $65 million, the case settled with the assessment at $71M. The town argued then that Inland Western had purchased the property just four years earlier for $102.3 million, but the company said the price paid was irrelevant in determining the present day value.

The most recent settlement was recommended by the Williston Board of Listers and the Town’s Assessor, McGuire said, and was approved by the Selectboard at a special meeting on December 29.

“The reasons why the town felt we had to negotiate are complex,” said McGuire, adding that the issue extends to state laws and how they’re established in regards to businesses and municipalities. “It’s not a simple issue, but it’s an important issue.”