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Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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HELP center project scheduled for vote to get free property

Board of Supervisors Chairman Cedell Brooks appeared determined to vote last week to give county property to Project FAITH to construct and operate a proposed project for a HELP Center. Instead, Brooks got concurrence from two board members to have the decision on the agenda for the next regular meeting on May 1.

Regardless of when a vote takes place, it appears clear that the three are in favor of providing the land. In addition to Brooks, Ruby Brabo said she was “very impressed” with Project FAITH and John LoBuglio said he was “firmly behind

this HELP center.”

Supervisors Dale Sisson and Joe Grzeika both said they supported the concept, but had qualms about the viability of the proposed project, with Sisson saying before going forward he would want to know “the full fiscal impact” and that Project FAITH, “does have the funding plan in place to go forward.” Grzeika questioned whether simply giving the land as advertised would be “fair and equitable,” and also queried, “Is this the best decision?”

PUBLIC HEARING
Those board comments and other discussion followed a public hearing on April 17 to consider the disposition of 5.53 acres located in the county’s new King George Government Center on Route 3 (Kings Hwy) at Purkins Corner, east of Route 205 (Ridge Road), across from the Sheriff’s office building under construction.

Eleven from the public spoke, with nine in favor. The two who questioned the proposal to give land to Project FAITH were John Heffernan and Ruth Herrink.  Heffernan questioned giving away prime real estate, adding that he didn’t think the county “should be giving away our resources.” He also suggested that there should come a time, when Project FAITH, “should stand on their own two feet.”

Herrink questioned the “financial viability of the process called for in the performance agreement.” She also suggested that prior to agreeing to give the land to Project FAITH, that the county first put out a request for proposals to see what other entities might be interested.

Herrink also said that Froncé Wardlaw’s original plans “fell through,” adding, “that’s the risk you take in the business world.” Wardlaw is Project FAITH’s executive director.

Of the nine in favor, two were founders of Project FAITH, Nadine Lucas and Phyllis Ashton, and two were from Social Services, including Dave Coman. Several other speakers identified themselves as potential clients of such a center and/or current residents of Project FAITH’s housing development.  

BACKGROUND
Project FAITH’s proposal for a HELP Center was first publicly announced in February 2010. A subsequent presentation was provided to Supervisors indicating it would be constructed on land to be purchased adjacent to the emergency care center located behind The Journal offices, owned by Herrink.

In March 2010, Supervisors submitted an application for federal funding through the federal Community Development Block Grant Program to assist Project FAITH in getting funding of $690,000 to go toward infrastructure costs for the HELP Center project.

But in July 2010, notification was received that Project FAITH’s proposed HELP Center project didn’t make the cut for the round of competitive grant applications.  

Two months later it became publicly apparent that Project FAITH could not come up with the funding. That was in May 2010, when Wardlaw came before the Board with a request for a $1,500,000 donation for the proposal. That request was discussed at a meeting in June, with consensus of support for the project, but no desire to provide any cash donation.

Then, in October 2010, the Board of Supervisors authorized execution of a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the county and Project FAITH to serve as the basis for further discussion about developing a final performance agreement and deed that would convey the same acreage of land, but with various restrictions. The existing performance agreement contains similar language from the MOU.

That was 18 months ago and brings us to last week’s public hearing.

PUBLIC HEARING
Prior to opening the public hearing, Wardlaw was given the floor. She said the proposed center would serve, “low-to-moderate families, disenfranchised individuals, at-risk populations, persons with disabilities, and children of those households, with secondary education, social and human services, free health care, holistic prison re-entry services, work force training that offers certifications and the proposed advanced concept would also full wrap-around services to the county’s most vulnerable populations, that is accessible and visible in its location.”

Wardlaw also noted that funds for the project have not yet been identified by Project FAITH, saying, “Although funding for the HELP center is not 100 percent known, we’re 50 percent there.

If we get the land from King George County, it will enable all other funding sources to be realized in 2012.”
During board member comments, Brooks repeatedly asked Matt Britton, county attorney, if the matter could be voted on that evening. Britton talked about and around the issue, then clearly stated that it was a requirement of the deed that a survey of the metes and bounds be provided, adding, “Usually the one who’s getting the property provides that.”
Britton added, “That has to be done in order to record the property. I think that would need to be done, along with changing the wording in the performance agreement.”

Brooks persisted, again asking, “We can vote on this tonight?”  Britton responded, “I don’t think so. It’s going to be required to get the plat.”

Britton also mentioned some wording changes to a performance agreement to tighten the language that might convey the board’s intent to disallow leases to commercial or for-profit entities.

Getting the existing signed performance agreement from Wardlaw took a year and a half from when a memorandum of understanding was signed with Project FAITH.

EXISTING PERFORMANCE AGREEMENT
The performance agreement requires that construction be commenced with footings poured no later than February 28, 2013 and construction to be completed no later than August 1, 2014. It’s not clear whether Project FAITH could meet the timeline with only half the amount needed for the venture currently pledged.
Under the existing performance agreement, the county “retains the right to reclaim the property through reversion of the property and all structures, appurtenances and improvements of any kind, in the event that Company does not meet all of its obligations under this Agreement and as set forth in the Deed.”
Also, the reversion clause doesn’t say it outright, but appears to intend that Project FAITH must own and operate the facility in perpetuity or reversion would occur. It states, “Company is solely responsible for the continued maintenance and operation of the Facility solely for its stated and intended purposes.” There are other clauses, some repetitious, and others appearing to be somewhat vague and possibly open to interpretation.

PROJECT FAITH’S PROJECTS
Project FAITH is a charitable housing organization promoting safe, affordable and accessible housing for persons with disabilities and elder individuals of low-incomes. It has built and operates three phases of Angelwood, which includes 80 multi-family dwellings. Angelwood is located on the north side of Route 3 (Kings Highway) to the east of Union First Market Bank.

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