(MATT BUTTON AEGIS STAFF, The Aegis / January 16, 2014)

Harford County had made an offer and a counter-offer on the Joppatowne pool site that residents have been pushing to be re-used as a community center, but the owner turned both of them down.

Another buyer offered a non-contingent contract, which the county couldn't match, Harford County Executive David Craig wrote in a letter to The Aegis Tuesday.

In the letter, he defended criticism from Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie that the county recently paid $700,000 for a waterfront site in Havre de Grace, but did not buy the site of the former Mariner Point Swim Club, which shut its doors just before the summer of 2013.

After getting two appraisals, Craig said Wednesday, the county approached the property owner, Murray Stephens, with a contingent offer of $679,500, which was rejected. The county came back with a slightly higher counter-offer, $700,000. It also was rejected in favor of a non-contingent offer that is set to go to settlement Jan. 31.

The county always has to perform the first phase of an environmental study, he said, which makes it hard to compete with another potential buyer who is willing to offer cash up front.

"It was not like we were trying to undermine this; there was nothing political to it," Craig said.

Guthrie passed along an e-mail correspondence from December in which he had asked for the two appraisals.

County property management chief Erin Schafer ultimately informed him in early January about the offers, explaining that the seller signed a non-contingent contract with a settlement date of Jan. 31.

Guthrie replied to Schafer and other county officials: "It is a shame that offer was not made timely in Dec[ember] when we had all the info that a full price was not going to fly with contingencies and an incentive offer had to be made to get the owners to wait until July to settle."

Guthrie suggested that "maybe that was the plan," an idea Craig rebuffed in his recent letter.

"The [$]700,000 used to buy the .88 of a[n] acre in Havre de Grace, of contaminated property, could have been used to buy the 4.3 acres of Joppatown property. That would have been a cash deal with no contingencies, and we would already own that property – today," Guthrie wrote.

"Joppatowne has been betrayed, again," he said. "And now we have no land left to build our community center."

The property is owned by Chris Smith of TriAlliance Commercial Real Estate Services.

In his letter to The Aegis, Craig explained that the county must go through a number of steps when looking to buy property.

"County parkland acquisitions must go through a process with several steps. We must obtain two appraisals, which govern the price that can be offered for a property," he wrote, adding that once a price is agreed, the contract of sale is contingent on approval of a county Board of Estimates completion of an environmental assessment and approval of the grant funding.

"This process usually takes four to six months if there are no complicating factors," he said, adding it is "disappointing" the property could not be bought and saying he still hopes for a youth-senior center in Joppatowne in the future.

Craig's and Guthrie's letters are published on Page 8 in today's Aegis.

Residents had rallied for the swim club after it closed for the summer and circulated a petition in hopes of convincing the county to buy the property.

A church in Baltimore had previously considered buying the swim club.