Will Detroit reclaim $16 million property? Land Plymouth purchased may still belong to City of Detroit
July 12, 2012 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
“The supervisor, is, by law, the chief assessing officer for the township and is responsible for the assessing process…”
The City of Detroit has until March of next year to reclaim a 190-acre parcel of land valued at up to $16 million from Plymouth Township or seek monetary damages.
The 190-acre parcel was included in a foreclosure sale of 323 acres by Wayne County to Plymouth Township for unpaid taxes last September.
The owner of the land, according to Wayne County records, was Demco 54, and that corporation had failed to pay taxes on the property for several years, resulting in the foreclosure sale.
Land transfer records, however, indicate that Demco 54 purchased only a 133-acre parcel of the property in 2006 and the remaining 190 acres was still owned by the City of Detroit. Official transfer documents indicate that the assessor’s office in Plymouth Township failed to divide the parcels of property by the correct owners at the time of sale. The township then sent all tax bills for the entire 323 acres to Demco 54. Detroit did not receive a tax bill on the portion the city still owned from 2007 forward. Plymouth Township referred the delinquent taxes to Wayne County for collection and the county subsequently foreclosed on the land. The county then offered the township the “right of first refusal” on the land during the annual sale of fore- closed property for unpaid taxes.
The failure of the township and the county to notify the correct owner of the taxes due allows Detroit the right to seek to reclaim the property and recover monetary damages up to the actual current market value of the land under Section 211.78L of Michigan law. The property was on the tax rolls in 2007 at $29,283,880 true cash value, but was reduced in value for unknown reasons in sub- sequent years. The initial price for the land approved by the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees last year was $287,679, but when further back taxes were added, the total price paid to Wayne County for the entire 323- acre parcel was $606,000.
“That’s quite a bargain for land valued at between $5.8 and $16 million,” noted Richard Sharland, a life-long township resident who has been investigating the situation for several months.
Sharland’s family has owned land adjacent to this property bordered by Napier, Five Mile, Beck and Ridge roads for more than a century. His great-great-grandfather bought the farmland that abuts what is commonly referred to as the Detroit House of Corrections property in 1854, so he has a vested interest in the land.
A long-time friend, and neighbor of Sharland’s, Dennis Wilkins, rented the land in question from the City of Detroit from 2000 through 2006 and from Demco 54 in 2007 and 2008.
In 2009, a Demco 54 representative, identified as Gary Roberts, told Wilkins that Demco 54 did not own the entire 323 acres he had been farming, and that Wilkins should contact the City of Detroit, the owner of the 190-acre parcel. Wilkins and the city came to an agreement on a lease price, and he leased the other 190 acres from Detroit for 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to rental agreements and license agreements sent to him from Detroit which include part of 2012.
He continued to lease the other 133 acres from Demco 54 in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He farmed crops on the entire 323 acres of property through those years.
Property records indicate that as part of the purchase of the 133-acre portion of the property from the City of Detroit on June 26, 2006, the buyer, Demco 54, had an option with Detroit to acquire the remainder of the property in 25-acre increments, but there is no record of the company ever exercising that provision.
Detroit was receiving rental payments on the land, but no tax bills. Demco 54 did not pay taxes on any portion of the 323 acres, even though the company was receiving bills on the entire parcel, which were not challenged, from Plymouth Township.
Sharland’s inquiries and research demonstrated conclusively that when Demco 54 purchased the property from Detroit in 2006, documents including standard form 2766 sent to the assessor’s office clearly state the purchase is “part of” a larger parcel of land.
“The assessing department received the documents and had the right and authority to split the land at that time into the correct parcels,” Sharland said. “Rather, they put Demco 54 on the entire property rather than the City of Detroit on the remaining 190 acres.
“The City of Detroit got no tax bill,” Sharland said.
The retired farmer has collected piles of legal documents attempting to unravel the tangled trail of deeds, purchase agreements, letters of agreement, quit claim deeds, tax appeal letters, tax bills, assessments and the other reams of paper which surround the property sale and subsequent actions.
“It’s more than complicated,” Sharland said, “but these documents demonstrate clearly that Detroit was, and probably still is, the owner of the 190 acres of land.
“They didn’t receive a tax bill on it, so they have a right to reclaim it from any foreclosure sale and they may have a right to the market value of the land under section 211.78l of the General Property Tax Act.”
Sharland, 69, said he is now considering running for township supervisor as an independent in the November election. He sought the office of treasurer in 2008.
“The supervisor, is, by law, the chief assessing officer for the township and is responsible for the assessing process,” he said. “This was a serious error.”
He stressed that all the documents he has found are accessible public records with the exception, perhaps, of Wilkins’ lease. He attended Land Division School in Lansing in an effort to learn more about deeds, transfers and what to search for while pursuing his research into the situation.
“It was just my buddy was farming the land and was told he had a new landlord. That just made me curious,” he said. “I can’t imagine why a title search didn’t turn this up. I know I never would have accepted some of these documents, like this quit claim deed.”
The land was purchased by the township to be used for a proposed Wayne County Advanced Technology Park, a joint effort with Northville which would include the entire 323 acres and adjacent land Northville has purchased.
The 190-acre parcel is on the 2012 tax rolls valued at two times $8 million while the 133 acre parcel is valued at two times $1.6 million.