Comptroller Peter Franchot asked Queen Anne's County officials yesterday to delay settlement on an open-space deal to investigate questions about an appraisal that helped justify the $5 million purchase price.
The state agreed to pay $4.6 million and Queen Anne's County agreed to contribute $400,000 for the 270-acre property. An initial appraisal pegged the land's value at $3.6 million, but a second appraisal set its value at $4.6 million.
In his letter, Franchot questioned several assumptions in the second appraisal.
"I now understand that the County has no intention of constructing a sports complex, indoor arena or ball fields on this property, but the $4.6 million ... appraisal was based on an assumption that these public infrastructure improvements would be made, and that water and sewer service would be extended," Franchot wrote. "I believe that this contributed to an over-inflated appraisal."
Franchot raised questions about the price at the Board of Public Works but voted for the deal anyway.
The property is being sold by U.S. Land Alliance, a for-profit land preservation company headed by David Sutherland, who was a member of Gov. Martin O'Malley's 1,100-member transition team. An O'Malley spokesman said the governor does not know him personally.
Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin worked as a consultant on part of the deal before joining the administration, but an attorney for the state Ethics Commission advised him that his prior involvement did not pose a conflict of interest.
O'Malley has said he believes the deal is proper.