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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

   20140901MetroCastweb

Town loses $20,800 in revenue in Hamilton St. sale

Every council has one. It seems that every council has at least one transaction, ordinance or resolution that blows up in its face. While the current Colonial Beach Town Council has no lack of these, the Hamilton Street vacation has to be the most embarrassing land transaction for the council, so far this year.

In an attempt to dispose of small, unused parcels that cannot be built upon, the town has been offering these parcels to the adjoining landowners.

The Hamilton Street right-of-way (ROW), located in the southern part of Colonial Beach, consisted of 6,025 square feet of land that was not being used by the town. The property was divided into two parcels, both to be sold at a value of $8 per square foot. The larger parcel, consisting of 5,198 square feet, was offered to adjoining landowner Cameron Craig Berry for $41,600. The smaller parcel, at 827 square feet and appraised at $6,600, was offered to adjoining landowner Clayton L. Shepard.

In order to save on advertising costs, the vacation and sale of these two parcels were covered under one ordinance. The property was vacated by a council vote on June 13 of this year. However, when it came time to vote on the sale of these parcels, there was some opposition from Councilwomen Linda Brubaker and Wanda Goforth. Both felt that the smaller parcel should be sold at a higher price since it was waterfront property. The councilwomen agreed with each other that it had been appraised too low and stated they would not vote to sell it at the previously agreed-upon price.

Furthermore, sale of waterfront property requires a majority vote of five council members, and only six of the seven members were present at the June 13 meeting. The other four members in attendance were willing to vote for the sale of both parcels, but at the time, Councilman Tim Curtin was out of town.

After some hard debate between the council members, Councilman Gary Seeber moved to amend the ordinance to exclude the sale of the smaller waterfront parcel and to continue with a vote to sell the larger parcel. After amending the original ordinance, Seeber motioned to sell the larger parcel, and the motion passed. Since the larger parcel was not waterfront property, the vote only needed four votes to obtain a majority.

During the June 27 work session, after quite a bit of back-and-forth discussion over the smaller parcel and its price, Councilwoman Brubaker, who had originally opposed the sale price as being too low, motioned to move forward with the advertisement of the sale of the 827-square foot parcel at its original appraised amount of $6,600. Brubaker explained that she had reached this decision only after visiting the property, observing its condition and learning of improvements made to the parcel by Mr. Shepard at his own expense. Brubaker then offered an apology to the Shepards, who were in attendance, for their inconvenience in the delay of a decision by the council regarding the sale.

The sale of the smaller parcel was re-advertised and scheduled to come before the council again at the Aug. 8 meeting, where a decision on the sale of the parcel was once again delayed.

At the Aug. 8 meeting, Mayor Mike Ham opened the public hearing regarding ordinance 640, which outlined the sale of the Hamilton St. property to Mr. Shepard. With no comments from the public during the hearing on ordinance 640, what should have been an easy vote on the sale of town-owned property, turned into a long, at times heated debate.

It had been learned that Mr. Berry, who was originally granted the opportunity to purchase the larger parcel of the property, had backed out of the sale. Councilman Gary Seeber stated, “It is my understanding that Mr. Berry is, right now, delaying any action on his part.”

The fact that one part of the property would remain, should Mr. Berry not buy the portion offered to him, raised the question of whether the council would be violating Resolution 19-11. That resolution states that a right-of-way that has been abandoned/vacated and then proposed to be sold, must be sold in its entirety without any residual of the parcel left to the town.

Goforth argued that according to the resolution, the smaller parcel could not be sold to Mr. Shepard if Mr. Berry did not go through with the purchase of his portion, the larger of the two parcels.

Seeber advised that the resolution was drafted to insure that no town-owned property would become landlocked.

Goforth pointed out that the resolution did not say anything about a parcel being landlocked and maintained her interpretation of the resolution.

Discussions between Goforth and Seeber became heated and loud, at times.

Finally, Councilman Tommy Edwards asked for the town attorney, Andrea Erard, to interpret the resolution. Erard explained that since a resolution is simply town council policy, and not an ordinance or state code, it was up to the council to interpret.

Other council members weighed in on the subject for over twenty minutes. In the end, the council secured a five-to-one vote to sell the smaller parcel to Shepard, with Goforth voting against. This still leaves the larger parcel of the Hamilton St. ROW vacation, offered to Berry, tied up in negotiations.

At the Nov. 14 regular council meeting, the town held a second public hearing and passed another ordinance to sell the larger parcel for $20,800, half of the original amount of $41,600.

When asked why the property was sold at such a low price, Town Manager Val Foulds replied in an email, “Mr. Berry countered the appraised value, when it became clear that the Town Council (TC) opened up the discussions for pricing. So the final price represents the amount Mr. Berry and the TC negotiated for the Hamilton Street parcel.”

When Mayor Ham opened the public hearing on Nov. 14, no one was signed up to speak, nor did anyone volunteer after Ham called for speakers on the matter. Likewise, council members all remained silent, and there was no discussion on the matter. The ordinance passed unanimously with six votes.

The Colonial Beach Town Council’s attempt to get more money for the smaller parcel of the Hamilton St. ROW, because of its waterfront location, not only resulted in the smaller parcel being sold at its original appraised price to Mr. Shepard, but it also allowed the door to be opened to negotiation for the larger parcel by Mr. Berry. In the end, the attempt of the council to increase revenue, resulted in the town losing over $20,800 in these town-owned property sales transactions.

Then-Councilman Tim Curtin was absent from the evening meeting, having presented his resignation from council earlier that morning. The council voted to accept Curtin’s resignation, with Councilman Tommy Edwards expressing, “I accept it, with regrets.”

—Linda Farneth

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