It sits high atop the big hill in Vermont's largest city, a brick and stone mansion so fine and beautiful it has its own name — Fairholt. But today the grand demense, surrounded by the lush grounds of the Burlington Country Club, is the subject of a testy battle with city hall over its fair market value. And following last week's on-site inspection by City Assessor Dana Dean, the parties remain more than $1 million apart. In Newport, Rhode Island, or Beverly Hills, California, that might not sound like much, but in Burlington, Vermont, that's serious money.
Fairholt was built in the 1880s as a summer "cottage" for New York publishing magnate Henry Holt. His architect was Frederick Law Olmstead, best known for creations like New York's Central Park and Mt. Royal Park in Montreal.
In 1954, this San Simeon of New England's west coast was acquired by the Society of St. Edmund, the Roman Catholic order that founded St. Michael's College. The Edmundites made fair Fairholt their seminary. When the seminary biz faded like hula hoops, it became a residential H.Q. for the padres. Then in 1996 they sold it to Richard Tarrant, St. Mike’s grad and Boy Wonder of the Chittenden County business sector, and his wife Amy Tarrant.
Amy’s a hometown girl from the once politically connected Fayette family. She’s currently chairman of the board of directors of the Flynn Theatre. The recent annual meeting was held at Fairholt.
Everybody knows Ritchie and Amy. Fine upstanding, down-to-earth people. And generous, too. Way back when the first Woodstock happened, Ritchie started a little medical software company called IDX. It went public in 1995. According to the firm’s SEC filing, Ritchie owns 23 percent of the common stock. At Monday’s close, that cashes out at about $130 million. God bless him!
Ritchie and Amy purchased Fairholt and its surrounding 17 acres for a cool $1 million. At the time it was assessed by the city at $938,000. The following year, the assessment jumped to $1.9 million and in 1998 Fairholt was reassessed for tax purposes at $3.5 million. The Tarrants did some serious renovating and added significant improvements to the century-old palace. The two huge porches were closed in and second floors added. Like tentacles, two new wings sprouted from the front. The square footage climbed from 9,700 to almost 14,000. Fairholt has a brand-new, state-of-the-art movie theater with disco lighting, seven bedrooms, seven full bathrooms and five half-bathrooms. Let’s face it, that’s one hell of a toilet paper bill.
One little hang-up, says Dean, is the owner has not informed the city of the cost of the renovations. "We have requested the information and are waiting to receive it," says the assessor. Dean says Fairholt's fair market value is $3.5 million. But Amy insists it's only worth $2.4 million. The difference amounts to $18,856 on the annual property tax bill.
By the way, it's Mrs. Tarrant who's fighting city hall on this one. Mr. Tarrant's name was removed from the title on March 10. Both tell Inside Track divorce proceedings are underway. C'est la vie.
The Tarrant tax appeal was shot down by the city's Board of Tax Appeals last fall. An appeal to the state appraiser is pending. As yet, no date has been scheduled for a hearing. Currently property taxes are being paid at the $3.5 million assessment level.
Yours truly is no expert on pricing homes of the rich and famous, but 17 private acres in the middle of the Burlington Country Club with 12 bathrooms, a movie theater and a remote-controlled entrance gate?
Jeezum crow, $3.5 million might be a little light?
Hate Squad Welcomed! — Nice turnout bright and early Tuesday morn to welcome the Kansas Kristian Kook Squad to Vermont's state capitol. The 10 wack-jobs chanted "Friends don't let friends butt fuck" and other assorted niceties that reflect their virulent anti-gay stance.
The locals responded, "Take your hate out of our state."
Interesting how the Vermont press handled the hate squad. Some outlets shied away from reporting the story at first, as if adopting a high-brow, politically correct yardstick to determine what news is acceptable in Vermont. Rutland Herald columnist Jack Hoffman devoted his Sunday pop to arguing out-of-state hate groups like this bunch should be ignored.
No way, Jose. The press exists to inform the public what’s really happening, no matter how unpleasant it may be.
And second, history suggests that like cockroaches, when you shine a bright light on bigots, they quickly scurry away.
On Adelphia Cable’s Chittenden County system, Ch. 17 will air the Fellini-esque event (shot by Soren Smith) in its entirety this Friday evening at 10:30. The late hour is due to adult language (see above).
Popcorn, please! Don’t miss The Invasion of the Kansas Brain Snatchers coming soon to a TV screen near you!
BernieWatch 2000 — The name of Vermont’s Independent congressman, Bernie Sanders, popped up on CNN’s “Evans & Novak” show over the weekend. The guest was Sen. Robert Torricelli, who heads up the Democrat bid to gain a senate majority. Bulldog Bob Novak asked, “Senator, the one prospect for defeating the Republican incumbent in Vermont is considered to be the socialist congressman from that state, Bernie Sanders. Are you urging him to run?”
“I think,” Torricelli replied, “Bernie Sanders is an outstanding congressman and I don’t have much doubt that if he were to seek the senate seat he would defeat the Republican senator, Jim Jeffords.”
"You want him to run?" asked Novak.
"We've expressed our hopes that he would run. I believe him to be a strong candidate. And that if he were to come to the senate, Sen. Tom Daschle (the Democrat leader) has made it clear, just as Mr. Dick Gephardt did in the House, he'd be welcomed in our caucus. We'd give him committee positions to see that the interests of Vermont are protected."
Bring him on!
Media Notes — Kick-off is set for 6 sharp on Monday. That's when WVNY, Vermont's ABC affiliate, trots out a whole new production of the evening news. News Director Ken Shriner tells Inside Track, "You can count on us to do the stories that have the most impact."
It's a big challenge with Ch. 3 (WCAX), and Ch. 5 (WPTZ), already locked in a tight ratings battle in the metro area. Both have clearly defined their styles and emphases. WCAX is Vermont's television news of record, keeping a watchful eye on state government.
WPTZ, on the other hand, takes more of a "news-lite" approach. Political news is considered "too inside baseball." There's a warm and fuzzy, just-family emphasis on canned consumer, health and cooking tips.
Shriner says WVNY will offer "news that's different and done in a different way." But he won't go so far as to emulate the cutting-edge station in the Czech Republic that offers nude weather.