Dealer wins station auction

Car salesman buys Southern District building for $1.92 million


The owner of an Annapolis car dealership ponied up $1.92 million this week to buy a former police station in Edgewater from Anne Arundel County, although he won't be able to sell cars there.

George B. Criswell of Edgewater, who owns an Acura and Audi showroom on West Street, beat out 19 other parties Tuesday for the 1.16-acre property and the Southern District building, which is more than 6,000 square foot, in the first-ever auction of county land, Anne Arundel officials said.

Criswell would not say what he planned to do with the parcel, located in a commercial corridor on the 2900 block of Solomons Island Road, or Route 2, just blocks from the South River. Its zoning prohibits construction of a car dealership.

"It's going to be something I like," Criswell said. "It will fit in with that area."

Criswell put the chances at 50-50 that the Cape Cod-style building would be knocked down. Built in 1945, it was used for 40 years as the district's headquarters, which is now on Stepney Lane.

Criswell will take the title in about 40 days, said Central Services Officer Fred Schram, who is in charge of the county's real estate. Including a 5 percent auctioneer fee, Criswell paid $2,016,000 total.

County officials said they were elated with the outcome, given the county had appraised the land at between $1.2 million and $1.4 million last year.

"We were extremely pleased," said Chief Administrative Officer Robert L. Walker, who is filling in for County Executive Janet S. Owens as she recovers from planned surgery.

Edward R. Reilly, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Council, expressed similar sentiments yesterday.

"I never thought this property would command such a price," said Reilly, a Republican who represents Edgewater.

The $1.92 million will be directed to the county's general fund. Officials said the county will reap additional benefits as the property comes onto the tax rolls.

Reilly said he anticipated "expansive building on the site," given the price Criswell paid.

That concerns residents of the Edgewater Beach neighborhood behind the property. The county recently agreed to close off access from Virginia Avenue, a side street off of Route 2, in an effort to limit traffic.

Reilly said that agreement and the zoning designation, C2, will ensure "an appropriate use for that property." Permitted uses under C2 include banks, day-care centers, basic retail, hotels and general office space. Car dealerships require a C4 designation.

"We knew it wasn't going to stay a park or residential development because it was just too valuable," Reilly said.

Eric Sullivan, president of the Edgewater Beach Corp, said he hopes the 150-home community will be able to talk to Criswell about his development plans.

"We are hoping it will enhance our community and not provide issues to our safety," said Sullivan, whose group represents 110 homes. "We have a lot of children back there."

The auction disappointed the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Annapolis, which had hoped to convert the World War II-era building into a meeting hall.

Kenneth R. Smith, commander of the post, said the county had appraised the land for residential usage at $600,000 - a price the veterans said they could afford. But the county changed the zoning to commercial, a move that raised the land's value.

"I hate to say it, but the county sort of gave us the runaround," Smith said.

The county had signaled it would only accept bids for at least the appraised commercial value.

"The bidding opened at a million dollars, and we didn't want to go over that," Smith said.

Had the property been sold under residential zoning, Reilly said "it would have been too enticing" for the new owner to get an "upzoning" to commercial and sell the land for a million-dollar profit.

Walker said: "We would like to be supportive of our veterans' groups. ... [But] we had to get the best price."

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