Frederick County moved closer Tuesday to purchasing a $20 million property at 800 Oak St. in Frederick.
A favorable 5-2 vote from the County Council frees up necessary funds to acquire the 26-acre property off U.S. Route 15, which includes a 209,000-square-foot facility currently being used for COVID vaccinations. The county plans to finalize the purchase Friday.
The final price tag the council approved is $32 million, which includes preparing the facility’s roofing for solar panels. 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 the net cost to between $7 million and $8 million, according to county officials.
Critics of the purchase, including Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor (D) and at least four of five city of Frederick aldermen, have said the county was hasty and lacked transparency in its move to acquire the property.
County officials and council members supportive of the acquisition, however, said they had to move quickly to meet the deadline set by the Miami-based private equity firm selling the property. Moreover, they felt the pace was fair.
“I really appreciate the fact that we’re not moving at the speed of government to get this done,” Councilman Steve McKay, who voted in favor of the purchase, said during the meeting. “We all should applaud that.”
Joining McKay (R) in support of the bid were Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D), Council Vice President Michael Blue (R), Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) and Councilman Jerry Donald (D).
County leaders have not finalized plans for the Oak Street facility. They hope to use it to accelerate large projects, including relocating the county’s 911 call center and adding a library to the west side of the city. Avoiding the construction of new buildings for such projects would also save the county money, officials said.
The county hopes to centralize some government services and address space needs that Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum said exist in “most” county departments. The county plans to retain its home in Winchester Hall and its presence in buildings along N. Market Street, Harcum said.
Council members Phil Dacey (R) and Kai Hagen (D) voted against the acquisition. Both councilmen said they felt the county should’ve been more open with city officials about its intent to purchase the Oak Street property, located in Frederick. Dacey opined the council’s vote was a slight to its city counterparts.
“This is a big generational-type decision about where to place county government within [city] boundaries, but we're not including [the city] in a seat at the table,” Dacey said during the meeting. “I don’t think that’s the right message to our city partners.”
In letters to the council, city leaders asked the county to provide documents pertaining to the property, but even under the Public Information Act, the county wasn't permitted to fulfill the city’s request until after the sale's completion, county officials said. The city’s request also included information the seller would most likely want to remain private, Harcum said, which is common in property acquisitions.
Backlash from city leaders came as a surprise to some county officials, including Keegan-Ayer, who said she hadn’t heard from her counterpart on the Board of Aldermen before receiving the first of a handful of letters from aldermen and the mayor.
“I just regret the fact that there has been this level of animosity between the county and the city,” Keegan-Ayer, whose district houses the Oak Street facility, said during the meeting. “I think that things could’ve been handled much better.”
Neither the mayor nor Kelly Russell, president pro tem for the Board of Aldermen, responded to requests for comment from The News-Post Tuesday.