Frederick County Council approved the purchase of $ 20 million worth of Oak Street
Oct. 13-Frederick County approached Tuesday to buy $ 20 million worth of property at 800 Oak St. of Frederick.
A favorable 5-2 vote from the County Council frees up the necessary funds to acquire the 26-acre property on U.S. Route 15, which includes a 209,000-square-foot facility currently used for COVID vaccines. The province plans to finalize the purchase Friday.
The final price approved by the council was $ 32 million, which includes preparing the facility’s roof for the solar panels. The county expects to recover a chunk of the $ 20 million cost of owning the site-not including costs beyond acquiring the property-by combining operations and efficiency improvements to bring the net cost 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 the city’s five Frederick aldermen, said the county was in a hurry and lacked transparency in its move to acquire the property.
County officials and council members supported the acquisition, however, saying they needed to move quickly to meet the deadline set by the Miami-based private equity firm selling the property. Moreover, they felt that the speed was fair.
“I really appreciate the fact that we’re not moving at government speed to do this,” Councilman Steve McKay, who voted in favor of the purchase, said at the said meeting. “We should all applaud that.”
Joining McKay (R) in support of the bid were Council President MC 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 expedite large projects, including moving the province’s 911 call center and adding a library in the western part of the city. Avoiding the construction of new buildings for such projects will also save the province money, officials said.
The county expects 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 keep its home at 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 councilors said they think the county should be more open with city officials about its intent to buy the Oak Street property, located in Frederick. Dacey chose the council vote partly over its city counterparts.
“It’s a big decision in the kind of generation about where to put the provincial government inside [city] boundaries, but we are not included [the city] in a chair at the table, “Dacey said at the meeting.” I don’t think that’s the right message to our city partners. “
In letters to the council, city leaders asked the province to provide documents pertaining to the property, but even under the Public Information Act, the province was not allowed to comply with the city’s request until after the sale, said provincial officials. The city request also includes information that the seller is likely to want to remain private, Harcum said, which is common in property acquisitions.
The backlash from city leaders came as a surprise to some county officials, including Keegan-Ayer, who said he had not heard from his counterpart on the Board of Aldermen before receiving the first in a small letter from the aldermen and mayor.
“I just regret the fact that there was this level of animosity between the province and the city,” Keegan-Ayer, whose district has the facility located on Oak Street, said at the meeting. “I think things could have been handled better.”
Neither the mayor nor Kelly Russell, the presidential pro tem for the Aldermen Board, responded to requests for comment from The News-Post Tuesday.
Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan