Greenbank Farm Wine Shop owner Hollie Swanson said she understands why rental rates at the farm should be different depending on the type of space and tenant. Many factors must be taken into consideration. File photo.

Tenants questioning accuracy of port’s appraisal

Rather than implement higher rental rates at the Coupeville Wharf and Greenbank Farm, commissioners for the Port of Coupeville say they’ll “kick the can down the road.”

Farm tenants now pay a monthly rate anywhere from 48 to 84 cents per square foot in addition to a 12.84 percent leasehold tax. The appraisal suggests gross ranges of $6 per square foot for warehouse space, $10-11.38 per square foot for office space and $11.82-12 per square foot for retail space.

Coupeville Wharf tenants currently pay monthly rates between 17 cents per square foot for the seasonal kayak rental space to 98 cents per square foot at The Salty Mug coffee shop.

The appraisers suggest waterfront retail space rates be in the range of $14.56-16 per square foot, or $1.21-1.33 per square foot at a monthly rate.

The port commissioners hoped to establish new rates based on a third party appraisal. However, concerns raised by tenants about the accuracy of the appraisal have given some commissioners reason to pause.

Based on qualifications of the appraiser, Commis-sioner William Bell said he believes the report is accurate, adding he is embarrassed by what tenants are paying versus the change in the market over the last few years.

PAT POWELL, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, which leases the second floor of Barn C at the farm, said she doesn’t believe the appraisal is a usable document.

“Unfortunately, you got a bad appraisal, and that’s really on the shoulders of the appraiser,” she said.

The Land Trust hired its own appraiser to conduct a review of the port’s appraisal. Powell said a report will be presented to commissioners highlighting information and areas missing from the port’s appraisal.

Powell said the Land Trust’s appraiser is still working on his evaluation, but provides highlights on his opinions.

The port’s appraisal was “incredibly flawed,” it’s lacking adequate descriptions of the properties and the individual rental spaces, Powell said, adding it leaves out entire portions of the farm.

“In order to do comparables, you have to actually do comparables,” Powell said. What this appraiser did was create an average rate of commercial centers.

FARM WINE shop tenant Jerry Swanson noted that one of the comparable properties used in the port’s appraisal is a business at Bush Point that’s been gone for years.

Other factors play into determining appraisal, such as how much of a business’ gross income is spent on rent and also the “experience” of the property, said Powell.

“In our experience when we get a bad appraisal, because they do happen, we give the appraiser the chance to fix the appraisal or only pay for half of it,” she said.

Almost every tenant met with the appraiser, but said they had a similar experience.

The appraiser didn’t ask questions or take notes and said, “I’m just supposed to meet with you.”

Tenants said they weren’t impressed.

“I’m so disappointed in what I heard about in this appraiser’s interactions with tenants,” Commissioner John Mishasek said, adding he will discuss options on what to do about the port’s appraisal.

ALL OF the tenants at Greenbank Farm asked commissioners to delay hiking rental rates until the Land Trust’s contracted review comes in.

They also said that they are open to negotiations, having no problems with rents not being consistent with every tenant.

“I think its fair and reasonable to have different rates,” said Hollie Swanson, co-owner of the farm’s wine shop.

Swanson said there should be different rates for an anchor businesses like the pies cafe, and factors to consider should include whether a business has perishable merchandise or the retail markup is different than office space.

Raven Rocks Gallery owner Windwalker Taibi said he agrees with Hollie Swanson.

Rental rates should also take into consideration the age of the buildings, issues with heating and needed repairs, he said. “The other buildings are historic, they have issues.

“There’s an awful lot of factors here.”

JOE GUNN, who took over running his mother’s Whidbey Pies Café at the farm, said he is appreciative of the other tenants’ support for the restaurant as an anchor business.

“We would be OK with a more blanket rent,” Gunn said.

“But there is something to be said about the draw and we put a lot into getting our product off the island.”

When determining rental rates, it’s about finding the balance between keeping tenants but also being fiscally responsible in ensuring the port is charging within fair market value for its rental spaces and avoiding potential audit findings, said John Mishasek.

If the state determined the port was charging too far below fair market value, it could go after the port to pay leasehold tax on the difference, he said.

Powell said the review she will be providing could help against the questionable appraisal in the event of an audit.

THE PORT commissioners were in agreement that rental rates must increase, the question is by how much, and when.

“How far below an objective appraisal can we be,” asked Bell. “How do we justify that balance?”

“I can’t see things going down, but can see things going up incrementally so it’s not a hardship,” Commissioner Bob Monroig said.

Mishasek proposed a working idea for a formula that would spread on incremental increases over years. It also allows for a more favorable cushion for tenants who sign longer leases.

Agreeing to keep rates as they are, the commissioners said they’ll call a special meeting after the Land Trust’s review comes in.