Gamatoria property purchase

Voters in Havre de Grace will be asked next month to approve the city's purchase of the Gamatoria property next to Concord Point Lighthouse. (MATT BUTTON AEGIS STAFF, Homestead Publishing / April 15, 2013)

In less than a month, Havre de Grace voters will decide whether to extend the city's public waterfront holdings north of the Concord Point Lighthouse through the $1.29 million purchase of a home and surrounding property belonging to a former city councilman's family.

That answer will come May 7 when residents fill out Question B on their election ballots and determine if the city will be allowed to buy the Gamatoria family's property at 701 Concord St.

Steve Gamatoria, the former councilman, who said recently he may one day consider running again for political office in Havre de Grace, came forward with the offer of selling the four lots that include his house adjacent to the lighthouse.

The city appraised the property for $1.3 million. A deposit of $40,000 was paid to the seller, with the remainder to be paid over 25 years, at 4 percent interest. Settlement would occur by Jan. 1, 2014.

Havre de Grace's city charter requires that the city's voters must first approve any property acquisitions by the city government. The same rule holds if the city decides to sell or otherwise dispose of any of its real estate.

The ballot question for the Gamatoria property purchase states that the mayor and city council intend to transform the property into a waterfront park. Just exactly what the property will look like, if the city buys it, is still in the very conceptual stage.

City Council members announced their agreement with the acquisition in February and, at a more recent council meeting, revealed a concept plan showing public open space on the property. The plan showed the house being removed.

During that latter council meeting, Gamatoria said he wanted to "clear the air" by responding to what he said was confusion about the price and size of the property, as well as his involvement with it.

"My single most important mission is that this not become a political issue," Gamatoria said at that time, explaining it is simply an offer from his family of "what I believe is the single most beautiful pice of land in Havre de Grace."

"As this process unfolded, I specifically have remained at arm's length [with] my participation at council meetings," he said, adding he has postponed plans for a second year to run for council or mayor "until this is over."

'Cut and dried'

Gamatoria said in an interview Sunday that he believes his mission has basically been accomplished.

"I got a few e-mails, people thanking me for kind of clearing the air and getting everything out there," he said about his earlier comments.

A sample ballot with the picture of the conceptual drawing has also been posted on the fence at his property, he said. It was also posted in a legal advertisement in last week's issue of The Record.

Gamatoria said he was satisfied with the ballot wording – "it is what it is" – and expects the process to move forward as expected. He said the main source of confusion was the difference between the appraisal and the assessment, but he thought that has largely been cleared up with the ballot question.

"It's pretty cut and dried at this point," he said of the proposal. "The citizens either want to do it or they don't. At this point, I'd be surprised if anything came up. I think all the questions have been answered."

Gamatoria talked at the earlier council meeting, and again on Sunday, about the work he has done to keep the waterfront along his property in good shape. He installed bulkhead, or a retaining wall, several years ago, as well as a pier about 10 years ago.

"The most important thing is, any time you have waterfront property is making sure it's maintained properly," he said.

"We see it as an opportunity for the city to regain some of the waterfront and increase the park space and open space," he added.

According to the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation records, the latest assessment for the property, which was reassessed in the 2012 calendar year, is set at $1,029,133 for July 1,2013, the beginning of the next county tax year.