Havre de Grace's cherished public waterfront could grow soon, if voters approve a purchase offer agreement for a property just north of the Concord Point Lighthouse.
The city is also planning to establish a new park on a vacant parcel near Citizens Care Center.
Monday night, the city council approved a purchase offer agreement for 701 Concord Street, which city attorney Paul Ishak said is about 48,000 square feet and is being offered by the owners for $1,290,000. The property has frontage on the Susquehanna River.
Ishak said the funding requirements would be $40,000 from the general funds this fiscal year and $1.25 million of a bond or note upon voter approval, to have a 4 percent interest rate that is owner-financed for 25 years.
The charter requires this to be approved by city voters and the most appropriate time to do that would be during the city election in May, Ishak said.
The city could get possession of the property as soon as July if voters approve it, he said.
According to Maryland property tax records, 701 Concord is owned by members of the Gamatoria family, including former city councilman Stephen Gamatoria. Two of the parcels are not listed under 701 Concord Street on the property tax records, Steve Gamatoria explained in an interview Wednesday.
The site was appraised on May 9, 2012 by Jay Edwards & Associates and includes three parcels, plus the house.
Total annual property taxes for the parcels are $10,229. The appraisal showed the latest assessment rating for the property on July 1, 2012 at $1,014,900.
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.
The property includes the four-bedroom home, which has a two-car garage, a sunroom with decks, a bathroom with a handicap shower, Jacuzzi, master bath and pocket doors throughout.
Gamatoria said he talked with Mayor Wayne Dougherty in January 2012 about making the property available to the city.
"My goal is, it would remain open space," he said, adding that when he was on the council, "one of the things I think all of us agreed to on the council that time was we needed to increase the inventory of open space, when available."
Gamatoria noted the waterfront is truly the main draw of Havre de Grace.
His property, meanwhile, has a long history as the Havre de Grace Yacht Club in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as other functions, he said.
"We looked at it, really, as a stewardship," he said of the property. "I think in the macro sense – 100 years, 200 years, 300 years from now – we really are just a very short steward of anything that we own."
Gamatoria bought the land in 1995 and said he plans to move elsewhere in the area. He has building lots in the Havre de Grace Heights, off Currier Street, and is also looking at other homes.
"Whatever we do, it's going to be completely, 100 percent handicap accessible," he said, explaining he wants the new home to be accessible to his family for the long term. "This house is not conducive for accessibility," he added.
If the voters approve the purchase, Gamatoria would have to move by Jan. 1, 2014. He does not know what he would do if they reject the proposal, but he said he intends to move eventually in any case.
"I don't really want to sell the property to a private owner," he added.
Positive council reaction
City council members seemed unanimous Monday in hailing the acquisition as a great move for the city.
"We've seen our waterfront properties disappear for many years and this is an opportunity to take one of the most historic properties…, the lighthouse down there, and protect it forever," Council President Randy Craig said.
"It's not very often an opportunity like this becomes available and I'm hopeful and confident it will gain the support that's necessary," Craig said.
Councilman John Correri also said it is an opportunity for the city to keep the promise it made of keeping the waterfront open to the public.
Councilman Bill Martin said the city has been working on the acquisition since the spring.
"The owner is very generous to come to the city to offer it to us instead of a developer," he said. "It's a nice piece of land by the water."
Councilman Joe Smith said, when he ran for council last year, one of the most common questions he got was his position on preserving the waterfront.
"I think this is a wise move. I'm confident that the citizens will support this," he said.
Mayor Wayne Dougherty said it is a sign of things changing.
"There was a time when Havre de Grace waterfront property was worthless. No one wanted to live by the water," he said, adding the city continues to change.
"Land preservation has always been extremely important to myself as I've served 16 years on the city," he said.
New park coming
The plan for a new park on city-owned land to the rear of Citizens Care Center is to have amenities geared to use by senior citizens.
John Allen and Joe Conaway of the city's public works department made a presentation on the new park at Monday's city council meeting.
Dougherty said the city has been working on the park for eight or nine months.
The park is about 1-1/2 acres at the rear of the Citizens Care Center, Conaway said.
The mayor tasked Conaway and Allen about a year ago to use the property for a park-like setting that was user-friendly and handicap-accessible, Conaway told the city council.
The park had to incorporate stormwater-management features as well as amenities like walking trails.
All the work except electrical work will be done in-house, Conaway said.
"This will definitely save us quite a bit of money," he said.
Dougherty said he began talking with a woman at Perry Point about the idea of having various exercise stations in the park, which was included in the plan.
"What we needed was a place for the more senior population to come, sit and relax and perhaps also derive benefit from doing simple exercises where they don't have the opportunity," Dougherty said about the park, noting it is within walking distance of several apartment or senior living buildings.
Dougherty said: "It's a very do-able project that I would like to see started by the middle of March."
Council members Martin and Correri also thanked Conaway and Allen for their work on city parks, including David Crag Park.
Pat Fair and Carolyn Foley were recognized on the occasion of the 25th year of the city's Arts Commission by Harford County Executive David Craig, Randy Craig, Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti and Dougherty.
The county executive noted 25 years is a long time to be involved in anything, and Randy Craig, the county executive's son, said the group is one of the city's largest commissions, with very involved volunteers. The organization is responsible for organizing a number of events in the city each year, notably concerts.
Dougherty also gave both awards for being outstanding citizens.
The council then showed on its monitors a retrospective of photos from the Arts Commission's work over the years.
Jim Reynolds, principal of Havre de Grace High School, talked about new initiatives at the high school.
"We're really working to increase the number of students taking AP courses," he said, adding AP Physics and AP French are being added next year.
A signature biomedical program is being launched next year. He said it is not a magnet program but is only for Havre de Grace students.
"This is great timing because of the new hospital. It's going to be creating hundreds of middle-class jobs," he said.
Reynolds said the school also has a partnership with Verizon, and Verizon representatives will be coming this spring to do select presentations with seniors who are interested in business communications.
Each student will get a Samsung Galaxy tablet they will be able to use this spring and will be asked to create a Web-based commercial; the student with the best commercial is to receive an internship with Verizon, among other prizes.
He said 49 students have achieved a 4.0 grade point average or better and the school is working with the city to establish better learning opportunities for students.
"Good things are happening there and a lot of new programs," Reynolds said of the school.
Council members congratulated the Ravens on their Super Bowl victory, and Martin and Councilman Dave Glenn both showed their support by wearing Ravens jerseys.
Dougherty said if there is one person he will always support, it is Ray Rice.
"I think the Super Bowl went well and I'm totally satisfied with the outcome," he said.
Smith said he has a colleague who lives in New Orleans and had positive things to say about Ravens fans.
"He was very impressed with all the people he met from Maryland, from Baltimore," Smith said. "Everyone was friendly, they were having a great time and that really spoke well of the state and the region."
Martin said he proudly got a Baltimore Sun paper announcing the Ravens as Super Bowl champions.
"I will never pick on Joe Flacco again, I promise," he joked. "It really galvanizes our state and brings people together."
While the Ravens were dismissed a bit when they won 12 years ago, this time, "people are really saying nice things about the Baltimore Ravens," Martin said.
"It's nice that your hometown team is a team you can tell your kids, 'This is who you want to be like,'" he said of the Ravens' character.
In other action:
• Xavier Whiting, of Meadowvale Elementary School, Andrew Steckler, of Havre de Grace Elementary School, Katie Klisavage, of Havre de Grace Middle School and Natassia Smith, of Havre de Grace High School were honored as students of the month.
• The council approved four special events: a War of 1812 re-enactment on May 4 and 5, the Pirate Fest 5K run on July 13, the annual Pirate Gala on July 13 and the annual Candlelight Tour on Dec. 8.
• Smith said the Drama Guild is hosting a flapjack breakfast on Feb. 9 and noted the day was the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks.
• Correri said the Havre de Grace Chiefs girls softball team is having its bull and shrimp roast on Feb. 16 at the community center.
This story has been updated from earlier online versions and contains corrections to the selling price and the property tax appraisal in 2012.