On the Waterfront: Harford County Council Spars over Havre de Grace Land Purchase Proposed by County Executive Craig

Harford County Executive David Craig wants the County Council to approve a purchase of waterfront properties in Havre de Grace adjacent to public parks, offering links to existing land and water trails. What about this $3.5 million purchase has members of the County Council sparing with the Craig Administration and with each other, and calling on the county ethics board as referee? Among the reasons: The cleanup, the price and the players.

The Cleanup

The two properties totaling 4 ½ acres on Water Street in Havre de Grace are known to be contaminated with petroleum, at least. Abatement will be necessary before the county can develop the land as planned for a recreational facility.

Former uses of the properties include storage of fuel and pesticides, according to an Opinion of Probable Cost commissioned by the Craig Administration from Geo-Technology, Inc. (GTA). The company in May estimated the cleanup cost to range from $336,000 to $1.65 million, depending on how much of the land has to be remediated. The estimate also assumes that no other contaminants requiring abatement, aside from petroleum, will be found. The current plan involves removing and replacing two feet of surface soil.

Advocating on behalf of the Craig Administration at an October 8th public hearing on the proposed purchase, Erin Schafer, chief of property management in the County Department of Procurement, said under questioning from Councilman Chad Shrodes that the property contains gasoline, diesel fuel, and some metals. “It’s not a bad picture,” she said, later adding that the county had cleaned up and built on similarly contaminated property before. However she said that more testing and a development plan were needed before final costs would be known.

As an offset, the sellers agreed to escrow $250,000 for abatement. However, the sellers would not reduce the sale price to reflect the high-end of the estimated cleanup cost. “The deal would be off the table”, Schafer said. In response to a question from Councilman Dion Guthrie, Schafer said she couldn’t “speak to why” the sellers didn’t clean up the property prior to sale.

The larger of the two properties – 649 Water Street – is owned by MTBR Yacht Club, LLC, which, according to an October 11th memorandum from Schafer, boils down to trusts for various family members of Baltimore developer John Paterakis. Local developer Clark Turner is currently a 1% owner, but is in the process of being “redeemed” by Paterakis, according to the memo. The property was once planned by the current owners for condominiums and a marina, Schafer said.

The smaller piece – 627 Water Street – is reportedly in foreclosure, and being sold by Stonebridge Bank.

Softening the blow on the cost of cleanup, County Executive Craig also brokered an agreement last week wherein the City of Havre de Grace would contribute $100,000 in environmental engineering design money for the remediation. According to the MOU signed by Craig and Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty, the city and county also agreed to apply for federal and state remediation grants of up to $400,000 each, and to split any remaining cost should the $800,000 be insufficient for cleanup.

The Price

The purchases negotiated by the Craig Administration are priced at the high end of the appraised values for each of the two properties, giving pause to some council members.

The larger piece – 3.7 acres at 649 Water Street, owned by Paterakis – was appraised in February 2012 by two independent appraisers at $1.85 million and $2.7 million, respectively. Both figures assume no contamination on the site, according to the appraisals by Everett, Benfield LLC, and Page Appraisal Company, both of Bel Air. The Craig administration proposes to buy the property for $2.7 million.

For 627 Water Street, the two appraisals came in at $694,000 and $770,000, assuming no contamination. The county wants to buy that piece for $770,000.

Under questioning from council members at the public hearing, Schafer justified the prices for the properties even with the estimated worst-case cost of cleanup, citing figures for comparable sales in the area. She said the county had been studying the properties for over two years and had done its due diligence. “The county still feels like this is a good purchase and it’s a justifiable purchase when you break out all the numbers.”

Council members appear to agree in principle on the merits. “I think everybody on this Council agrees this is a great project,” Council President Billy Boniface said at a legislative session Tuesday where a vote on the purchase was planned. However, he said he could not support the purchase given the cost and the way the deal was structured.

The purchase prices are based on appraisals that were updates on more thorough analyses performed in 2010, Boniface said, and “huge” cleanup costs could tack on millions more. “Quite frankly, I don’t think the county has done its due diligence in this area”, he said. Two new appraisals should be done for each of the two properties, and the sellers should be solely responsible for cleanup, he said.

In an interview following the meeting, Boniface said he also didn’t think the county should pay for the lion’s share of the purchase given the financial outlook, “Times are tough right now,” he said, adding that the city of Havre de Grace should share more of the cost.

The Players

In a final twist, the real estate broker on the $2.7 million sale of 649 Water Street – owned by Paterakis – is also the president of an organization that both employs Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti and supports the establishment of public recreation trails.

The Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway (LSHG) is a non-profit organization whose mission includes creating continuous public recreation trails connecting Harford and Cecil counties along the Susquehanna River. Lisanti is LSHG’s paid executive director.

Councilwoman Lisanti said at the public hearing on October 8th that LSHG had “no direct knowledge or participation in the acquisition of this property.” However, she has also been an avid supporter of the purchase, calling it “probably the most significant land acquisition that the county has made in its history.” She cited the opportunity to connect three national trails, furthering state and local programs to create a public greenway along the Susquehanna River, which includes connecting the Conowingo Dam and Havre de Grace on the Harford County side. Having added her name to the legislation as a co-sponsor, she also countered objections from her fellow councilmembers about the cleanup and the price, saying the county had purchased contaminated land before and highlighting the economic boon to the county from the tourism and hospitality industries.

Prior to the council meeting Tuesday, Council President Boniface contacted Lisanti about the potential conflict of interest, encouraging her to request an opinion from the County Board of Ethics before voting. Lisanti addressed Boniface publicly at the meeting, saying she found it “shocking” that her position with LSHG, whose mission dovetailed with the county on other projects, would be an issue in this case, as her long standing employment had been disclosed. She also said she had nothing to gain personally from the purchase and no relationship to the sellers.

Nonetheless, Lisanti said on Tuesday that she had sought advice from the ethics board and asked for the vote to be delayed until she received their guidance: “If you take this to a vote tonight, I would have no other option than to feel backed into a corner and feel I would have to abstain…”

Boniface said his concerns, and those of other council members, went beyond Lisanti’s employment to include the real estate commission to be gained by her employer.

BCH Real Estate Specialists of Havre de Grace lists the 649 Water Street property for sale at $3 million, with Allen Fair as the agent. Fair is also the president of the LSHG.

“The ethics code is very specific that you can’t vote on it, “Boniface told Lisanti, “I asked [Council Attorney] Lambert’s opinion and she concurred with me. I was only, out of respect, offering you an opportunity to abstain…” later adding, “I was only trying to protect you, Ms. Lisanti.

Listanti pushed back, saying the purchase contract called for the county to pay the seller and not Mr. Fair. She then made a formal motion to delay the vote until the next council meeting. The motion passed, 4 to 3.

The Aftermath

Boniface said in an interview following the meeting that he believed Lisanti had already crossed the line: “This enhances her profession which I feel is a conflict of interest.” But he said he wanted to emphasize that he wasn’t accusing anyone involved of doing anything illegal, “I just disagree with the way this thing has been structured and how it’s been handled as far as the procurement process.”

Lisanti could not be reached for further comment.

The next council meeting is set for November 5, where a final vote is expected on the waterfront purchase.

Comments

  1. thieves, crooks, developers and poloticians says

    Lasanti already draws an $80,000 dollar a year salary from the green way, but, NO conflict of interest. Greedy developers bought this land, and are now stuck with it. So their solution to get city governments to buy it. Its a well know fact that Clarke Turner owned or pays towards the loan on this land for quite some time in co-hoots with long time Baltimore Slumlord turned baker Patarakis. (did u know they based an entire season of the wire to him?) Go into Prices’ seafood at any time in the last few years (across this street) and they will have told you he owned it, and was trying to dump it. WHEN WHEN WHEN will you all stop advocating for municipalities BAILING OUT greedy f#$cking developers because they donate to political campaigns. For anyone on any council that has half a f****** brain to say they have no knowledge of this is complete and utter bullshit. You can go into a select few establishments on any given weekend and see all of the “Un-Aware” parties involved buying each other drinks and laughing about wasting YOUR hard earned tax dollars on stupid shit like this. Good Luck Havre de Grace. You have been f***** by the the Succubusses like Lasanti and craig for years. If you sit idly buy and continue to let this shit happen you have nobody to blame but yourselves.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 38 Thumb down 3
    • Undertaker says

      ABSOLUTELY SPOT-ON!!!
      Start adding up what our corrupt local officials have cost us over the Craig years, you will be amazed!! —and further disgusted. From the hirings of friends, family, pay-backs and the likes to way over-priced properties, and TIFs; they have collectively, grown the cost of government in this county to unmanageable proportions. We will be paying for this FOREVER or until we realize that we can no longer call Harford County Home. WHAT A SHAME!—–gotta go, someone is at the door looking for a donation for the next governor wannabe.

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  2. BillH says

    The property is appraised at $1.85 million if it were cleaned of contaminants. Clean up cost are estimated as high as $1.65 million. So the property has a potential value of $200,000. Condemn it and either force them to clean it up or take the property. Being stupid comes with a cost, please Harford county don’t prove you are the dumbest one in this negotiation.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0
    • omalley says says

      Its on the water. I doubt you would be able to get much built without a ton of red tape.

      Well-loved. Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0
  3. paul says

    you can bet on one thing for sure this deal is all about who scratches who’s back. that’s how this administration works along with the 7 dwarfs.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2
  4. The Money Tree says

    From Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:

    “There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity…You can smell it.”

    Well-loved. Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1
  5. Hazzard Native says

    Teachers go without their pay increases as written in their contracts, school bus routes are cut, roads are left unpaved, and the county council thinks it is a great idea to buy a contaminated chunk of dirt in a flood zone in one of our incorporated towns. Lovely, just lovely. YOU WORK FOR US!!! HOW ABOUT NO?!?!?!!!!!!

    Well-loved. Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1
    • The Money Tree says

      It doesn’t look like the county council thinks this is a good idea – looks like Craig does. I count Boniface, Woods and Schrodes as being decent, ethical people and it seems clear to me that Boniface smells a rat as he should or anybody else with matter above the shoulders.

      Well-loved. Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1
    • Karl Marx says says

      No Raises for Teachers. The peoples money is being collectivized towards the building of so many glorious new indoctrination centers to help further the revolution. Just ask Commisar Burbey. He is the people prophet, and fights down the capitalists at every meeting and demands these centers be built

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7
      • says

        Mr. Marx,

        It has come to my attention that you do not have a favorable opinion of Mr. Burbey. Mr. Burbey, being the “Commisar” he is, will not even acknowledge your posts about him. What his deal man? I for one wonder how anyone could like Mr. Burbey. After all he is only trying to support teachers and their students. The nerve of that guy. I believe in one of your earlier posts on another blog you stated that teaching is a “dying art”. I couldn’t agree more. I mean can’t we just use google? It knows all the answers. By now Mr. Marx you must realize that I am being facetious. Let me be honest, I love reading your posts because they are all nonsense. When I have a bad day and I need a pick me up I just look at your posts. Priceless. Just Priceless. Check out the new issue of AARP that you got delivered. Look on page 34, there is a great article on how to get the senior discount at McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts even with out your AARP card. Awesome right? Just out of curiosity? Are you related to Kharn or the Money Tree? I hear they are running for seats on the County Council. Maybe you should put your name in the hat too. Anyways, you stay classy Mr. Marx. Stay Classy.

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  6. Sam Adams says

    Folks in Bulle Rock were told this would be the location of the community marina. It was held out as an inducement to purchase a house in the neighborhood. Then the developer took it off the table, as is the case with any number of other promises that were made to residents such as the road to connect the two sides. Paterakis has stopped investing any more money in Bulle Rock, refuses to fund reserves to take care of the ‘private’ roads, and only opens up limited new sections when he completely runs out of lots to sell. Now he is looking for Harford County taxpayers to give him a few million to lessen the sting of his grandious development crashing down. With the extra $1.5 million a year from Bulle Rock property taxes propping up the HdG budget, I am surprised the city hasn’t been trying to do this without the County’s involvement. It’s nice to see some Council members asking questions for a change. I suppose Boniface has that luxury now that he is getting out.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1
    • The Money Tree says

      If that’s true and indeed both Turner and Patarakis were pushing Bulle Rock property with the promise of a marina in that location they did so knowing that was identified as a brownfields lot. Clark Turner at one time intended to build condos there but withdrew his plan after he was reminded publically that there was heavy metal contamination to the property.

      Well-loved. Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0
  7. none says

    “County Executive Craig also brokered an agreement last week wherein the City of Havre de Grace would contribute $100,000 in environmental engineering design money for the remediation. According to the MOU signed by Craig and Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty.” Where does Doughtery think he has the authority to obligate funds of the city taxpayers without going through the city council?

    Another typical sweetheart deal for Craig and Dougherty’s friends at the taxpayers’ expense. Maybe the sellers will hold the note on this piece also so we the taxpayers can pay double the cost with no early payment at an unrealistic appraisal.

    How much will the property vlues increase across the street from the new waterfront park and who owns them?

    “Boniface said in an interview following the meeting that he believed Lisanti had already crossed the line: “This enhances her profession which I feel is a conflict of interest.” How about Billie Boy’s legislative change to allow him to be hired by Barry as the Director of Administration or the Farm Preservation that he benefits from. Pot meet Kettle.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4
    • The Money Tree says

      Your projecting with Mr. Boniface. He has not been appointed, nor has been accused of using his current office or any future office to his own benefit. Not so with Craig.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4
      • Barbara says

        True, None is projecting. However, there is a much better possibility of the projection becoming true than not. If Mr. Glassman wins the CE position and appoints Mr. Boniface as Director of Admin, then None was right all along. If not, None can apologize. I’m betting None is right.

        Well-loved. Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2
        • The Money Tree says

          I have no problem with Boniface becoming a Director in a Glassman administration and even if it has to do with farms. Who better to understand both preservation and laws surrounding farms than a farmer – assuming future impropriety has nothing to do with clearly a sweet deal in making designed to bail out the developers while creating open space – all at taxpayers expense. Lisanti comes off looking pretty bad here.

          Well-loved. Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1
          • says

            Well said Mr. Tree,

            I couldn’t agree more with your valid points. On another note I also agree with you stance on immigration in Harford County. Whats with all these 20 something coming to our county? I mean I don’t know about you but I am sick of people driving the speed limit here. Everybody knows you are suppose to drive 10 under it. Well Hopefully if your plan to close the schools down come together we wont have to worry about them. I will see you at the next HCRC meeting. As always, Stay classy Mr. Tree, Stay Classy.

            Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
          • The Money Tree says

            Given the number of misspellings and ramblings that seem to have nothing to do with reality that you were very, very high when posting this. Rule of thumb after consuming a case of beer is try to stay away from your keyboard and please, please stay off the roads regardless of how slow you think we should all drive. Thanks for the entertainment.

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  8. Hazzard Native says

    Two birds with one stone –
    Maybe the Bane led HCSD can swoop down and buy it for their new aviation unit. They could have flyin’ boats and everything at that location!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4
  9. more of the same says

    Deciding to buy property (owned by those with connections to the right people) at inflated prices is nothing new to the Craig administration. Look no further than the purchase of the Plecker property in Joppa for Craig’s proposed Waste Transfer station. The county paid significantly more than the property was worth.

    It will be interesting to see how Mr. Guthrie votes on this matter since the inflated price of the Plecker purchase was one of his main objections and led to legislation to have up to date assessments before the county can purchase property. Will Mr. Guthrie vote with Lasanti on this deal because she is a fellow Democrat even if the purchase price is too high?

    Well-loved. Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0
  10. brutallyfrank says

    call in the state and federal EPA — let’s have them assess the situation and make the owners pay ever penny for it. taxpayers get ripped off when there isn’t transparency and a complete understanding of the facts. We want an honest, objective, accurate, and thorough ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDY done BEFORE any money changes hands or contracts are signed!!! Mr. Craig wants to run Harford County like Mayberry RFD — SAY NO TO THIS PURCHASE !!!

    Well-loved. Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0
  11. Muzz says

    Since Craig is a former teacher and school administrator, it look like this shady deal is being concocted by the Professor and Mary Ann.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0
  12. Citizen says

    I know this was already stated, but deep cuts to education and more to likely come this year, and Craig advocates for this?!?! This is just insane.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0
  13. working bel air dad says

    Turner and Craig – didn’t they go to school together?
    Lisanti should abstain.
    If the land is contaminated – the sellers should clean it up or the county should declare it a health hazard to residents and force the clean up regardless of who buys it.
    Isn’t Craig running for governor?

    What about the Scott Gibson – $18K give away?

    So many rats, so little pesticide

    Well-loved. Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0
  14. Bill says

    Good job Dagger!!! the Craig apologists at the local paper have not covered the Craig/Turner/Paterakis connection on this and actually wrote an editorial for the purchase a couple weeks ago. Most likely by the HDG editor who covers up Craig’s corruption. They have yet to mention his over-ride of HR policy to pay Gibson over the the County limit.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0
  15. amazed says

    Three things jump out at me here… 1, two appraisers estimate the larger lot at $1.85 million and $2.7 million, respectively. Um, I’m not on any fancy council or anything, but those estimates are almost a million apart. Do you think maybe a third opinion might be called for before you spend our money? 2. Anyone who spent any time near that area when I was growing up knows by the memory of the smell that it’s going to take more than two feet of soil removal to remediate. 3. Ms Lisanti, your feigned indignant attitude won’t change the fact that it’s a conflict of interest. It is. Get over it. We’re not ALL stupid, you know. If this didn’t belong to someone they want to pay off, they’d condemn it or eminent domain it and pay a couple grand for it. Seriously, is this what you people should be working on?

    Well-loved. Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0
  16. Yay says

    Hey, build a park. It will be nice and beautiful. Harford County needs more parks for it’s citizens. It is the counties job to buy land and make parks. Also, they should clean all polluted sites in the county with the help of the EPA. Then the EPA should fine local business who pollute to cover the costs.

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  17. none says

    Looks like the County Council voted not to buy the property at the inflated asking price. Have no fear Havre de Grace, your Mayor will have the city buy it no questions asked.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  18. The Money Tree says

    “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,”

    A well-known quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  19. Roman says

    On other news the county is giving the employees free ice cream next week!! who needs a raise when you can just get a treat. I am so lucky that my employer thinks it is better to spend taxpayer funds on a dump site.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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