Harford County officials, having passed once, are seeking a second chance to buy 71 surplus Army apartment units on 17 acres of land in Edgewood for the bargain price of $1.
"That's the real estate deal of a lifetime," exclaimed Councilman Dion F. Guthrie. "That's a small gold mine. How you pass up a $4 million piece of property for a buck is beyond me."
The property, called Lee Court, was first offered to the county for $1 this year by the General Services Administration, which wants to get it off the federal books.
However, former County Executive James M. Harkins rejected the deal when a development plan with a nonprofit organization and a private developer fell through, said David R. Craig, who succeeded Harkins in July.
Craig and Guthrie, a Democrat who represents the Edgewood area, said they hope to renew the offer.
But that would require getting officials at the GSA to cancel an auction for the property scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Richlin Ballroom in Edgewood.
The Harford officials have asked Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger to help block the auction.
Ruppersberger, however, expressed little hope that the county would again be offered the land for a dollar. "I'm told that is not going to happen," he said.
As an alternative, he said, "I'm trying to postpone the auction so that the county can buy the land at market price."
Mikulski asked GSA Administrator Stephen A. Perry in a letter to intervene and allow Harford to purchase the land.
"The senator has a verbal commitment from Stephen Perry that she will get an answer to her request to have the auction canceled before Wednesday," Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the senator, said Friday.
The Lee Court complex was built in the early 1950s, during the military buildup for the Korean War. It was home to 71 enlisted men stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground and their families.
It was declared excess property in the late 1990s, said George Mercer, a spokesman for APG. The last military family moved out in 1999, shortly after extensive renovations.
Today the development shows signs of neglect.
Most of the windows on the red-brick, three-story apartment buildings are boarded up, as are the doors. Branches from giant oaks that decorate the courtyards and parking areas lay where they have fallen over the years.
The tattered remains of a table and sofa are piled at the end of a concrete walk leading to one apartment building. There's a sprinkling of trash on the ground, and shrubs - including pinkish-purple crepe myrtle - have grown scraggly.
Inside one four-bedroom apartment, the brown carpet is rippled; white paint is peeling from the walls and window frames. The stove is missing from the kitchen, but the Magic Chef dishwasher and wooden storage cabinets are in place.
"They were well-built," Guthrie said of the apartments. "It wouldn't take a whole lot to fix these places up again."
But a renovation of the apartments is not in the county's plans.
"We want to use it for parks and recreation," Craig said last week after touring the property with his Cabinet members and Guthrie. "We would like to put in football fields, soccer fields and baseball fields. It would make good parkland."
"It's worth a dollar," said Craig, who is also looking at a 13-acre tract of federal land adjacent to Lee Court. He laughed and said, "Maybe we can get the second piece for another dollar."
Goal is `positive place'
According to Guthrie, about 70 developers have put up their $100,000 in certified funds required to register with GSA to bid on the property. Gary Mote, a spokesman with the GSA office in Atlanta that is handling the auction, declined to say how many potential buyers are registered.
Craig said that if the county gets the property, the plan is to spend $1.3 million to raze the buildings and clear the land. "We want to make it a positive place," he said.
"There is a need for additional parks and recreational facilities in this part of the county, as there is in most other parts of the county," he said.
Once the land is cleared, Craig said, the county would hope to obtain $1.2 million in state funds from Program Open Space to construct recreational facilities.
If things go as planned, Guthrie said, the buildings at Washington Court, another former Army apartment complex about a mile from Lee Court that is already owned by the county, would be demolished, too.
Guthrie said Washington Court has become "a breeding ground for drug dealers" and a hangout for homeless people. "It costs the county a lot of money to maintain. There are a lot of police calls and fire calls to that site."
He said the county would like to have a developer transform Washington Court into a business park.