How is it that zoning on Church Street gets changed and an $830,000 parcel, generating more than $28,000 in annual property taxes, gets taken off the tax rolls – and no one knew about it? Stunning, no?

Mayor Jon Mitchell said Wednesday that he had no idea that New Bedford Child and Family Services had purchased the soon-to-be-former Regal House property at 965 Church Street. Nor was Mitchell aware the property would no longer generate tax revenue for the city because New Bedford Child and Family Services is a non-profit. Did Mitchell know about the zoning change required to make the deal happen? Nope.

It seems I caught Mitchell off guard with all of this on my Wednesday program, even though records indicate the Planning Board has been dealing with this since last October and the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the zoning change in November.

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The mayor was okay with the news, though, saying the Child and Family Services property on Pleasant Street was worth more and could eventually net more tax revenue for the city than the Regal House property, should it be sold and rehabbed.

Several city councilors who heard the interview admitted that they too were kept in the dark about the transaction and the loss of tax revenue.

Mitchell says the transaction was between two private entities with no involvement by the City of New Bedford. But that is simply not the case. A zoning change was required to make the deal work. I thought zoning changes were a big deal that required public input? Apparently not this zoning change.

Does the Zoning Board of Appeals have enough autonomy that it can take prime real estate off the tax rolls by simply changing the zoning? And no one has to know about or approve such a move? Wow!

Had the administration known about this transaction, it could have attempted to work with Child and Family Services to find a more suitable location. It might also have applied pressure to the Zoning Board of Appeals to deny the zoning change. Why didn't anyone tell the mayor?

Removing this valued property from the tax rolls is a blow to the home and business owners struggling to keep the city afloat. It would be nice if someone were looking out for them once and a while. I guess they'll just have to kick in a bit more next year to cover this $28,000 tax blunder.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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