No wrongdoing found in Havre de Grace dispute over parcel

Three-month inquiry by Montanarelli clears mayor and City Council

October 08, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

A long-running dispute over a proposal to sell a small, undeveloped lot near the waterfront in Havre de Grace was formally resolved yesterday when a state inquiry found that no criminal misconduct had been committed by the mayor and the City Council.

Stephen Montanarelli, head of the Office of the State Prosecutor, conducted a three-month inquiry into the proposed sale before notifying city officials that no wrongdoing was found.

"We're obviously very happy about the outcome -- we've stood the test," said Mayor Philip J. Barker during a news conference in Havre de Grace's City Hall yesterday. "This whole ordeal has obviously expended a great deal of staff time."

The inquiry began when a Harford County resident, whose identity was not released by Montanarelli, complained to the state prosecutor about the proposed sale of a 100-foot-by-100-foot lot at 329 Market St.

The proposal was part of economic redevelopment in downtown Havre de Grace, officials said. Last winter, the town advertised for bids and redevelopment plans for 13 city-owned lots, including the Market Street parcel.

After reviewing all the entries, the mayor and council chose proposals for three of the parcels, including one submitted on the Market Street lot by Barry and Jean Bomboy, who wanted to expand their nearby candy-making business.

The dispute arose after the city erroneously described the lot's size -- a mistake it later corrected -- and lowered its appraised value from $110,000 to $34,000. The first appraisal was adjusted after a second independent appraisal.

The Bomboys offered the city $35,000, and the council accepted that bid.

In a charter-mandated vote in May, city residents approved the sale on a vote of 1,090 to 243.

Two months later, a Harford County resident complained to Montanarelli's office that the parcel's size and value had been misrepresented to the public.

But the state prosecutor concluded that the error in the lot size was unintentional and the appraisal legal.

"We don't see a crime here. We don't see misconduct," Montanarelli said yesterday in an interview.

The plan continues, however, to rankle some residents, including City Council newcomer Betty Coakley, who said yesterday that the city should have readvertised the proposal when it discovered the lot was larger than originally believed.

"The people assumed when they voted it was still that 60-by-100-foot property," she said. "This is not right. The voters need to know what's going on."

Had the lot been properly advertised, she said, the election outcome might have been different.

Barker, the mayor, said yesterday that now that the legal issues have been resolved, the city will go forward with the sale. Barry Bomboy, the candy store owner, said he hopes to break ground for his expansion within a month.

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