Chancellorsville: do the math

Sorry to say, no new details of the Chancellorsville/Mullins deal have emerged in stories over the weekend.

Meanwhile, newspaper editorialists, not having analyzed the deal correctly, rummage through stocks of cliches for something bright and cheerful to sew onto this disaster:

From NC: On Wednesday, another victory was forged over the battlefield at Chancellorsville ... While the agreement wasn't the crushing defeat to developers for which the preservation trust had hoped, at least it was both a moral and tangible victory. [...]

From VA: Mr. Hagan, backed by his associates, helped broker an unprecedented deal among preservationists and developers, traditional co-antagonists, that has accurately been called "win-win-win." [...] Developer Tricord Homes, which aims to sell the 140 acres to the trust, gains in the long term... Forward, march.

Note the basic error: Tricord is not selling 140 acres to CWPT, it's selling a restrictive covenant. Here is another piece, this one original reporting, that makes the same mistake: "Under proposed terms of the agreement, the trust will pay a developer, Tricord Homes of Spotsylvania, $3 million for 140 acres near Fredericksburg."

As the CWPT has said in its own press release, this is "a proposal to preserve 140 acres" and "an agreement that permits Tricord to build age-restricted housing on 87 acres of the farm in exchange for the protection of the remaining 140 acres. CWPT is contributing $3 million toward the purchase of the preserved land."

Again, CWPT is helping a developer buy battlefield land to build upon it. It will not own anything in this deal.

In talking to the press about land owner John Mullins, and how talks broke down and how unreasonable the man is, "preservationists" (CWPT speaking off the record) often cite Mullins' $40 million asking price for his 800 acres. This is given out as a show-stopper: "Preservationists said Mullins at one point asked for $40 million for the entire 800-acre farm, which was assessed at $5.6 million."

The quote appears in story after story: "preservationists continued trying to buy the farm to stop development but said they were thwarted when owner John Mullins demanded $40 million for land assessed at about $5.6 million."

But do the math.

(1) Tricord and CWPT have teamed up to pay $12.5 million for 227 acres.
(2) Toll brothers bought 570 acres for an undisclosed amount. If Toll Brothers paid the same per acre amount as Tricord, that would be over $30 million.
(3) There are at least three acres in over 800 not yet accounted for in news stories, possibly not sold.

Mullins' $40 million asking price appears to be less than what he has made so far. CWPT, bargain hunting for battlefields, estimated the deal at something over $5.6 million - an error of gross technical miscalculation. The bargain was in paying $40 million.

If I were CWPT, I would keep very quiet about walking away from a discounted asking price and then coming back to pay $3 million for a mere easement on a fraction of the land.