Howard County officials entering talks on acquisition of Ellicott City buildings

Howard County officials said Monday they have resumed talks with property owners in historic Ellicott City to acquire buildings that are being considered for demolition in the wake of devastating flooding.

Jim Irvin, director of the county’s Department of Public Works, told the Howard County Council Monday that Howard Executive Calvin Ball directed the department last week to restart conversations with building owners.

Buying the buildings and demolishing them was part of a larger plan supported by former County Executive Allan Kittleman to mitigate flooding in the historic mill town, which has seen two deadly storms since 2016.

The plan had suggested buying at least 13 buildings in the historic district.

The negotiations with property owners doesn’t necessarily mean the county will move forward with demolishing the buildings. During his meeting with the council, Irvin said the department has in the past few months explored alternatives to razing — though he did not elaborate.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Ball, said later that while the county executive is still considering alternatives, he felt it was right to continue negotiations with the property owners that Kittleman initiated.

“[Ball] recognizes that offers to acquire property from several property owners had been made prior to his administration taking office,” Peterson said. “In the interest of fairness and equity, [he] has directed his administration to continue good faith negotiations with property owners and believes it would be unjust to leave property owners in the lurch after receiving offers from the county at this time.”

Throughout his campaign for county executive, Ball, dubbed himself an opponent of portions of the overall plan. He voted against the three bills that partially funded the $50 million mitigation package because his amendments, which he believed would address shortfalls, were not included.

Since the election, Ball has said he wants to review the portion of the plan that called for demolishing buildings on lower Main Street, while staying on track with projects upstream in the Tiber River watershed which includes stormwater retention ponds and widening streambeds.

As the county negotiates with residents, Irvin said, it will base any acquisitions on 2017 appraisal values. The combined values for the 13 buildings slated for demolition total nearly $2.8 million, according to documents presented to the County Council and obtained by The Howard County Times.

On Monday, officials did not respond to a request to identify which buildings the county plans to acquire.

As a councilman, Ball also introduced an amendment that would have capped payments for the properties to the appraised price — minus any money the owner received from flood insurance. That motion failed.

Peterson said Ball is “appreciative of the fact that the legislation passed without that amendment, and property owners have since received offers that were based on the appraised value of their properties.”

The county executive, he said, “believes it would be inherently unfair to alter the amounts of offers received by property owners at this time.”

Sally Tennant, who owns one of the buildings slated for demolition, said she was notified Monday afternoon by aides of Councilwoman Liz Walsh, a Democrat who represents historic Ellicott City, of the county’s plan to resume negotiations.

“It is a good sign to be going forward,” said Tennant, whose property on Main Street doubled as a shop and her home.

Tennant said the previous administration agreed to work to compensate “all I am giving up.” She said she spoke with representatives for Ball in November. That conversation, she said, left her optimistic about the future.

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