Aberdeen will move forward with the $1.2 million purchase of more than 13 acres along West Bel Air Avenue, which city officials expect will be the home of a new local community center.
The mayor and city council unanimously voted Monday for city manager to proceed with the purchase.
“Particularly with the new hospital coming online, we feel that it’s a good investment,” City Manager Randy Robertson told the elected officials.
The city is counting on Harford County to fund construction of the recreation center, however, and no money is in the county’s capital budget for the current fiscal year. It would be available by fiscal 2021, which begins July 1, at the earliest.
The land, known as the Mitchell property, is at 684 W. Bel Air Ave., near the downtown business district as well as the Merritt Properties office building off of Route 22. The unoccupied corporate campus is slated to be redeveloped as University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health’s new freestanding medical center and psychiatric hospital.
Even if the county does not fund construction of a recreation center, “I still think it’s a good investment — the numbers would support that," Robertson said. He noted that he had been following guidance from the mayor and council to seek a parcel “that’s walkable, right in the heart of the city.”
Chris Streett, of the Bel Air-based Streett Hopkins Real Estate, attended Monday’s council meeting, representing the property owner. He said he thinks the land is “a great community asset,” also noting the future development of the new medical center.
“I think it’s a win-win for all parties involved,” he told city leaders.
Mayor Patrick McGrady said the purchase price of $1.2 million is below the appraised value of more than $1.5 million, and that a “Phase I” environmental study has been completed with no major environmental issues found.
The mayor has been talking with county government officials and County Council members throughout the summer, working to obtain their support for funding a community center.
The council has been on board, adopting a resolution Sept. 10 that indicates its support for a community center in Aberdeen and urging County Executive Barry Glassman to stick to his current out-year capital funding schedule — design in fiscal 2021 and construction in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.
McGrady noted that the council members he has talked with have stressed that the county budget is “not our budget,” but it is produced by the executive branch. The council, which has the final approval of the annual budget, can shift funds among departments or increase the tax rate to raise more revenue.
McGrady and Robertson met with Glassman and Billy Boniface, director of administration, last week to discuss the community center project, “among others,” the mayor said.
Glassman told city officials the community center is a priority, since it is in his budget plan, the mayor reported. McGrady said county officials plan to fund it, “unless something crazy happens” such as an unanticipated spending mandate, based on his conversation with Boniface and Glassman.
“Even though it is a not sure thing, I am comfortable giving the city manager the approval to proceed to settlement and acquire this property,” McGrady said.
The county executive stressed, in a statement Tuesday, that “all projects in my CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) are priorities, that’s why they are in it.”
“I have to budget each year and balance new mandates and expenses with revenues,” Glassman continued. “So, we never make guarantees beyond one year.”
Glassman said he thinks that “it makes sense for Aberdeen to purchase the site if they believe it is a good location for a future center.”
“This piece of land makes the most sense, of anything else that we’ve looked at, in terms of what this park can be, whether [a community center] gets funded next year, or whatever else happens,” McGrady said.
Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck also expressed her support, saying the land is “a very valuable piece of property, in and of itself.”
“Once the hospital is in there, it becomes more valuable,” she said. “I can’t see any downside; it’s an investment.”