Compromise to save Duke's Place tavern from demolition collapses


C A compromise that would have allowed a Sykesville tavern with a sullied past to stave off demolition by the county government for another 10 years collapsed Monday.

As a result, the county and Howard W. Bollinger are again at an impasse over a fair price for The Duke's Place, a tavern noted for brawling, illegal gambling and blatant discrimination against blacks until Bollinger became part-owner in 1984.

The tavern sits in a flood plain on 1.3 acres at the edge of the south branch of the Patapsco River. The county plans to tear the tavern down as part of its flood-management program.

Acquiring the property and demolishing the bar would lessen the county's need for emergency flood response, Parks and Recreation Director Jeffrey A. Bourne told the council last week.

The administration offered Bollinger $150,000 -- which is what he and two others paid for the tavern in 1984. Bollinger feels he should be paid more.

The tavern has become respectable -- especially in the two years that Bollinger has been majority owner -- and he thinks the county should compensate him for his business as well as for the property.

Bourne, who wants the property to become part of a north-central neighborhood park linking up with the Hugg-Thomas wildlife refuge to the west and Patapsco Valley State Park to the east, said the offer included a fair price for the business.

Council members had been buoyed last week by what they thought was a compromise acceptable to all parties.

The compromise called for the county to purchase the property for $150,000 now, but allow Bollinger and his wife to continue to maintain the tavern there for the next 10 years.

The deal fell through when state officials objected. The state has agreed to provide 50 percent of the money needed to acquire the site and tear down the tavern.

"The state specifically prohibits the continuance of occupancy of any of the structures purchased through the Flood Management Program," Bourne told the council. "They have on occasion granted a maximum six-month delay, but only in cases where the parties are in the process of actual physical relocation."

Jeff Griffith, the Bollingers' attorney, said he and the Bollingers will continue to look for another solution. The state rejection of the compromises is "another hoop we have to find a way to jump through," he said.

Monday night, Bourne again appealed to the council to condemn the property and let the courts decide its value.

"We have a willing seller and a willing purchaser," Bourne said. "We cannot agree on price."

"You're suggesting you've drawn a line in the sand?" asked Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd.

"The county's offer is more than fair," Bourne said. "We're more than comfortable with the offer."

"You've dug in your heels," Gray said.

"As long as the process is open, there is room for adjustment," Bourne said.

"I'm sure you can be creative," said Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. "I hope you find some way to pay for this over more than one year. I'll continue to be optimistic."

"Shane is optimistic that you'll be flexible. I'm optimistic that you will not over-pay for that piece of property," said Darrel Drown, R-2nd.

The council agreed unanimously to postpone Bourne's request until after he and Bollinger's attorneys do some more talking.

Attorney Griffith said the council action was a good-faith gesture that will help the county and the Bollingers find a solution.

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