Four of five Frederick city aldermen on Monday asked for a delay in the Frederick County Council’s vote on a bid for the county to acquire a $20 million property.
County leadership said they were surprised by the request and the aldermen’s opposition to moving forward quickly with acquiring the 26-acre site, located at 800 Oak St. off U.S. 15. Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer said her counterpart on the Board of Aldermen, President Pro Tem Kelly Russell, didn't reach out to her before emailing the letter.
“I find it interesting that people decide to send a letter rather than engage in a conversation,” Keegan-Ayer (D) said.
Russell (D) said she didn’t try to contact Keegan-Ayer directly but had reached out to council members shortly before the council brought up the proposal during its Sept. 28 meeting. Russell didn’t reach out to council members after the meeting, she said.
Before they came before the council, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) announced the county’s plans to purchase the site during a Sept. 21 press briefing. Purchasing the property, she said, would allow county government the opportunity to relocate services that are running out of space, and it would bring an influx of economic activity to businesses in the adjacent area, including the Golden Mile.
“I think this will serve the county for years to come,” Gardner said.
Frederick County Council is scheduled to hear public comment on the county’s bid on Tuesday. Normally, Keegan-Ayer said, the council waits one week to vote on a proposal after hearing public input, which would likely be the case with this proposal.
The main ask in the alderman’s letter was for the council to delay its vote. In their letter, the aldermen -- including Russell, Derek Shackelford, Donna Kuzemchak and Ben MacShane -- also asked for a joint city and county public meeting to discuss the future of the property, a part of which the county has leased since April for vaccination clinics. It formerly housed a United Healthcare Inc. call center, and before that it belonged to State Farm Insurance.
“This proposed purchase took us all by surprise as the property had been listed for sale for about 12-18 months and this was the first time we had understood the county was interested in acquiring such a large tract of land within the city of Frederick,” the aldermen said in a copy of the letter obtained by the News-Post.
Also signed in the letter was Katie Nash, the lead vote-getter in the city’s primary election for the Board of Aldermen. Roger Wilson, who fell out of contention for mayor in the city’s September primary and who Nash may replace on the board, was the lone alderman to not sign the letter. He didn’t respond to a request for comment from the News-Post.
Mayor Michael O’Connor, who serves as the city’s executive officer to the legislative Board of Aldermen, said he supports the positions stated in the letter, adding that he may have signed on if the board wasn’t pressed for time to send it.
“I stand by my aldermen,” O’Connor (D) said.
Signees to the letter also requested documentation to clarify the county’s intended use for the property, though county officials have made no final decisions.
During her September briefing, Gardner said using the site for a 911 center the county has proposed would drastically cut expenditures for the project. She also mentioned the possibility of constructing a library, given the property’s position and desires she’s heard from constituents to have a library on the west side of town.
Additional costs, including preparing the roofing for solar panels, would bring the final price tag to $32 million. The county hopes to offset a chunk of the site’s $20 million property cost -- which doesn't include costs beyond acquiring the property -- by consolidating operations and improving efficiency to bring its net cost to between $7 million and $8 million, Gardner said.
For the county to finalize its offer, the council will need to approve the necessary $32 million in funding before Oct. 15, when the county is scheduled to finalize the deal. If the council doesn’t vote Tuesday, its members expect do so Oct. 12.
If the council votes against the proposal, the seller for the property will move on to another bidder.