Delays cost aircraft firm promised state financing


Delays in negotiations with the Carroll County government have resulted in Freewing Aerial Robotics losing promised state financing, company officials said Friday.

The experimental aircraft company -- which manufactures manned and unmanned aircraft with a movable wing -- must now reapply for its Maryland Industrial Land Act loan, which expired Thursday, said Odile Legeay, its vice president.

Applying for financing from the state took about three months the last time, she said.

"Now we have to start all over again," Ms. Legeay said. "We have a lot of support from the state, so we can expect the approval will be given again.

"But we cannot be assured of that."

Company officials had hoped to move the factory -- which could employ up to 40 people within a year -- from the University of Maryland's business incubator program in College Park to the Carroll County Regional Airport.

Negotiations turned sour when the Federal Aviation Administration determined that the property Carroll County had offered Freewing could not be used. The FAA said that putting a building on the site would interfere with a precision landing system to be installed in the next 10 years.

The county's latest, and final, offer was rejected by Freewing as a "nonoffer" because the landowner would not accept less than $90,000 an acre for the property. The demand was about $30,000 per acre more than the appraisal by the county tax office.

Under the terms of Freewing's state loan, company officials could not pay more than appraised value for the property.

"What we had there was an exercise of bad faith," Ms. Legeay said.

Arthur A. Peck, chairman of the county Industrial Development Authority (IDA), said Friday that the property was worth $90,000 an acre, based on the selling price of other sites at the airport.

Steve Hull, owner of the site offered to Freewing, said in previous interviews that the property had not been privately appraised.

"An appraisal for tax purposes is very different than an appraisal for real estate sales," Mr. Peck said. "I'm sure you and I would be very happy to take a tax appraisal in buying a piece of property.

"The county representative for land purchases has . . . said it was his considered opinion that it was worth $90,000 an acre. The IDA is not going to be spending tax dollars recklessly."

Freewing officials have said the property is not as valuable as others at the airport because it is less accessible and requires sewer and water connections.

Mr. Peck said he was unsure what the IDA's next move would be.

"I can't go into any more specifics until the rest of the IDA board and our county attorney discuss it as a group," he said.

However, Ms. Legeay said she and her partner, Hugh Schmittle, are actively seeking sites in other counties and outside of Maryland. The company cannot apply for another state Industrial Land Act loan until it has a site, she said.

"We have sent a copy of the [response] letter to the state to see what to do," she said. "We don't know what we're going to do yet."

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