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Aberdeen receives pushback on plans to sell former Moose property

Aberdeen city officials want to sell the rundown former Moose lodge property to a local businessman who plans to lease it to a German restaurant, but some residents are pushing back at the $50,000 selling price. The city paid $435,000 to acquire the Rogers street property.
Aberdeen city officials want to sell the rundown former Moose lodge property to a local businessman who plans to lease it to a German restaurant, but some residents are pushing back at the $50,000 selling price. The city paid $435,000 to acquire the Rogers street property.(MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Aberdeen City Council is receiving some public pushback over its plan to sell the former Moose lodge property for hundreds of thousands dollars less than the city paid for it.

The city intends to sell the 1.16-acre property, at 102 N. Rogers St., for $50,000 to Arthur H. and Ann C. Helton, who plan to redevelop it for the German restaurant Prost.

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A contract of sale to the Heltons was introduced at the council’s meeting Monday night.

The city purchased the property for $435,000 in 2014 with the intention of incorporating it into a planned downtown revitalization initiative.

The favored proposed use was as a military themed museum tied to neighboring Aberdeen Proving Ground; however, that effort has stalled and the current city administration, which came into office after the city bought the property, has been trying to sell it back into the private sector.

Before the contract ordinance was introduced, James Sweeting III questioned why the council agreed to sell the property to a bidder “whose bid was substantially lower” than that of his client, Boothe Brothers & Associates LLC.

“The mayor and city council are charged with being good stewards over the resources and assets of the city. This includes distressed properties such as 102 W. Rogers Street,” Sweeting wrote in a letter he read to the council. “We are aware of the many considerations that are involved in any decision regarding the city’s future, however, the mitigation of financial loss on transactions made by previous administrations should be paramount. It is difficult to see in this circumstance, the interests of the citizenry were protected.”

The Aberdeen mayor and City Council accepted a $50,000 offer from Art Helton, an Aberdeen business owner and property developer — and a former Harford County state senator — Monday to buy and redevelop the former Moose lodge on Rogers Street.

“We strongly believe that the city has overvalued and overestimated the profitability and viability of returning the property to its former use,” he said. “We ask that the city be prospective in outlook and action.”

Marla Posey-Moss, who lives on Avon Drive in Aberdeen, asked the council to reconsider the contract that was set to be introduced Monday.

She said the city needs to clarify in its process, how it will address properties that have basically put the city at debt.

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“It doesn’t appear to be in the procurement process that’s been strongly considered, the debt the city has incurred and the actual contract value that you’re getting,” said Posey-Moss, who was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 2015.

She also asked the council to consider developing a policy to enourage minority businesses.

“Take that into consideration for our business owners who happen to be either women or designated as an ethnic minority when going forth pot with contracts,” she said. “Not only are people trying to come here to establish some businesses, we ought to consider new people, new business to the area and consider welcoming them.”

Bob Hartman, of the 200 block of Paradise Road, also criticized the council for the potential loss taxpayers will be taking.

The nearly $400,000 the city is losing on the Moose Lodge combined with the $400,000 it recently paid for new trash and recycling cans for all city residents, “we could have had trash for residents here in Aberdeen for the next 24 years with no charge.”

“Enough is enough,” Hartman said. “As a taxpayer this is beginning to rub me the wrong way.”

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Art Helton, who with his wife has renovated a number of commercial and residential properties in Aberdeen, said he plans to lease the property for five years, beginning in 2019, to Renate and Richard Baruschka, who would then have the option to buy the site.

It will be the second restaurant for the Baruschkas, whose other eatery is on Jacob Tome Memorial Highway between Port Deposit and Colora.

City officials said last month the Heltons’ offer would expedite getting the property back on the tax rolls. They said the vacant building has deteriorated badly, particularly the roof, and the city has spent an additional $45,000 to $50,000 to shore it up.

The council unanimously agreed to take the Heltons’ offer, contingent on review by the city attorney.

The City of Aberdeen is looking for purchase offers on the former Aberdeen High School on Route 40 and the former Moose Lodge on Rodgers Street.

A public hearing on the contract of sale, which the council voted unanimously to introduce, will be held at the city’s Jan. 8 council meeting and the council could vote on it at the following meeting, Jan. 22, according to Mayor Patrick McGrady.

“Today is the first step in the process,” McGrady said. “And we hope to settle by March.”

When the city government decides to sell a piece of real estate, the property has to be deemed surplus, which the city will do if it approves the contract ordinance, the mayor said.

McGrady and other city officials acknowledged last month that the city had received other offers for the property, which was being marketed nationally. One offer, for $200,000, to turn the building into a mosque, was rejected because the property is not zoned for a house of worship, city officials said.

Another prior offer involved a plan to turn the building into a media production center, but was contingent on the prospective buyer obtaining financing to purchase the property and renovate the building.

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