Unused county parcel just sits

Gary purchase decried, but 7-acre site not sold

May 18, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A year after County Executive Janet S. Owens decried her predecessor's hurried purchase of a 7-acre Maryland City parcel for $1 million, no move has been made to sell the overgrown, debris-littered lot that Owens has said the county does not need or want.

Despite requests from the county real estate office, Owens -- who frequently laments the county's tight finances -- and her closest aides have not set in motion the lengthy process to sell land owned by the county.

"I'm telling them if we're not going to use it, we ought to sell it, because I know we can get our money for it," said Spurgeon R. Eismeier, who manages the county's real estate office.

In fact, Eismeier said he has received two phone calls from potential buyers. But he said he told both prospects he could not discuss a possible sale until the West County property is declared surplus. That process could take up to nine months, he said.

Despite the lack of action, a top official in the Owens administration says the county still intends to dispense with the land, which is within smelling distance of Laurel Park stables near busy Route 198.

"My understanding is we're going to sell it," said Jerome W. Klasmeier, chief administrative officer. "I know of no reason to suggest we're going to keep it. We have no plans to use it."

The county bought the land in fall 1998, near the end of then-County Executive John G. Gary's unsuccessful re-election campaign. While Gary hailed the site on Brock Bridge Road as an ideal place for a police substation and athletic fields, Owens and her new police chief and parks director disagreed.

"Our sense is we're going to have to try and sell it," Owens said in April 1999. "I don't know why it was purchased, but that's a lot of money that, quite frankly, could have been used for a slew of other things."

The rushed purchase of the land from a Gary campaign contributor raised concerns among officials including County Auditor Teresa Sutherland. In a November 1998 memo to the County Council, she said the decision to wire $1 million to developer Nicholas Andrew bypassed a series of approvals.

Gary, a Republican, dismissed Sutherland's assessment as well as any suggestion he was rewarding a financial supporter. Gary and Sutherland are longtime antagonists.

Meanwhile, the property still looks forlorn. A rickety construction fence is falling in places. Tires are heaped in a pile. A green warehouse, which environmental reports say could be contaminated with asbestos, sits empty, its door ajar.

"I haven't seen one bit of change," said Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association.

He supported Gary's plan and does not want the county to sell the property. But he has no doubt it will fetch a good price when and if it goes on the market.

"They're going to get their money back," Smallwood said. "You and I know that."

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