County buildings may be sold

For now, leasing preferred to costly renovations in Bel Air

July 20, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Harford County officials hope to auction three small public buildings in downtown Bel Air, rather than pay the high costs of renovating them.

Although the county is experiencing a severe crunch for office space and will likely have to negotiate pricey leases for new locations throughout the county seat next year, the buildings on West Courtland Street, across from the courthouse, are inadequate for present needs, officials said.

"They are two-story, very narrow and not accessible" for the disabled, said Deborah Henderson, county director of procurement. "They are just not up to today's standards for what we need. But we thought the proximity to the courthouse would make them attractive to other buyers."

The County Council introduced a resolution to declare 29, 31 and 33 W. Courtland St. surplus earlier this month and scheduled an Aug. 5 public hearing on the issue.

"We want to give the public an opportunity to address any issues with these properties," Henderson said.

If the council approves the resolution, Henderson will advertise the sale and seek competing bids from auctioneers who would want to handle it. She plans to rely on the auctioneer to determine what would be the lowest acceptable price, whether to sell each building separately and other details on how the sale will proceed. Prior to the auction, potential bidders will have an opportunity to see the buildings.

"We will have to decide what is our rock-bottom price and how to proceed," she said. "We know there is interest in these properties. We are not sure yet whether to bundle the three or sell them separately. Whichever way we can make more money is how we will go."

Proceeds from the sale would go into the general fund, she said.

An appraisal put the value of 29 W. Courtland St., a brick building and the largest of the three with 6,500 square feet, at $800,000. Next door, the two attached, gray-shingled buildings, at 31 and 33, have 1,400 and 2,500 square feet respectively. The smaller of those two is appraised at $250,000, the larger at $450,000. Parking is available in the rear of the site, which is less than a half-acre.

All three structures date to the 19th century and are part of Bel Air's Historic District. Since the county purchased them in the 1980s, the tenants have always been Harford's core services agencies and several nonprofits, including the YMCA and The ARC, a group that advocates for disabled people.

"We never collected any rents from these buildings," Henderson said.

The County Council recently scrapped an $82 million global space plan proposed by the county executive. The concept included a new office building for county agencies, including the council, a new sheriff's department and renovations to several other properties.

Opponents of the plan contended it was too costly, particularly in the uncertain economic climate. While convinced of the need for the project, council members also said the numerous infrastructure projects already under way and their lack of oversight as the plan moved forward forced them to vote against it.

Several members said they plan to revisit the space issue in the near future.

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