Ex-Arundel official OK'd more 11th-hour land deals Gary signed contracts for Odenton parcels in last days of term Third purchase probed


Days before leaving office, former Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary signed two land deals that netted one of his top campaign contributors $81,000 in real estate commissions.

The purchases, involving $1.3 million worth of overgrown acreage in Odenton, were brokered at the same time county officials were in Maryland City buying a third property from another campaign donor. The state's attorney's office is investigating that transaction.

The flurry of deals by the Gary administration during his last days in office drained a land acquisition fund, one of the few accounts that he did not need council approval to use. More than $1 million from the fund wound up in the hands of Gary's political backers.

Gary said he used the fund as intended, spending it to gather land for long-desired and thoughtfully planned county projects. He envisioned soccer fields, tennis courts and a police substation would fill the 7-acre Maryland City parcel.

The 26 garbage-strewn acres in Odenton, where two Victorian homes once housed B&O Railroad engineers, were to become the site of a 40,000-square-foot regional library and a possible western outpost for the county's community college.

"This was not some spur-of-the-minute purchase," Gary said. "This was a planned decision to get the county infrastructure in place before development gets out there."

Gary's successor, Janet S. Owens, has deleted all of those projects from the county's capital budget.

Bert L. Rice, an Odenton Republican who lost his council seat at the same time Gary was ousted, said the land where Routes 170 and 175 meet was widely considered ideal for a regional county facility.

Rice also confirmed an aspect of the deal evident in county memos and letters written in the days leading up to the purchase: The central figure in brokering the purchase was Odenton developer Jay Winer.

Winer, a longtime Gary ally and board member of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, contributed $4,500 over 1997 and 1998 to Gary's re-election campaign through his company, Academy Junction Limited Partnership.

As chairman of the Odenton Town Plan Oversight Committee, Winer was in charge of finding and approving suitable land for the library and community college. After reviewing several parcels, his committee chose the lots on Route 175 -- two parcels that were being brokered by his real estate firm, A.J. Properties.

Not done in secret

Winer did not return calls to his office and home. Gary, who said he never knew Winer's firm was involved, sees no conflict.

"It's not like this was done in the closet," Gary said. "This committee looked at this property and agreed to it. There are 20 people on that committee Jay Winer was only one piece of the whole thing."

Gary said he would have bought the land no matter who the broker was, because everyone involved agreed it was an excellent spot.

While the location may have been ideal, a detailed account of the purchase culled from county files and interviews indicates that the land was burdened with other problems.

From a developer's standpoint, they are "difficult parcels," said Robert F. Scher, the Baltimore real estate lawyer who was hired to sell one of them. "They've been working on selling them for a while."

Neighbors said signs from Winer's real estate firm had been posted on the property for at least two years.

Roughly a third of the property cannot be developed because it is protected wetlands. Also, some of the acreage has been used for dumping, and an environmental study showed a nearby landfill may have contaminated the ground water under the land.

Ownership problems

A bigger problem was that the owner of 14 acres of the tract, the late A. Danny Bisogne, did not hold title to the entire property, and county officials can't find all the other owners.

Bisogne, an Odenton fixture who died in 1994, bought more than 30 separate lots over time. Early developers subdivided the overall parcel with plans to build a small residential community there. Acquiring land that was set aside for internal roads, which crisscross the parcel, has proved the most vexing problem for county officials because no one knew who owned it.

In an Oct. 22, 1998 letter to a Bisogne attorney, county Public Works Agent Thomas Burke, working on the purchase, wrote: "Without these roads, the property is worthless to accommodate our needs."

On Oct. 27, Burke's boss, Richard Hall, brought the problem to the attention of top county officials, including Gary's chief administrative officer and his public works director. Hall advised them that it could take six to nine months to figure out who else might have a stake in the land, and he suggested they reduce their offer from $675,000 to $610,000.

Rush to close deal

Instead, the county hurried to close the deal.

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