County Acquires Buildings in Ellicott City

Prior to the past election, much had been discussed regarding the potential demolition of the buildings at lower Main Street in Ellicott City, MD over the Tiber. Two pieces of legislation were circulating in the halls of the George Howard building and in the minds of many in Howard County and beyond. Dubbed the “Kittleman-Weinstein plan”, a key component of the “solution” chosen by the county for addressing the flooding that the area is historically known for was the acquisition and demolition of buildings over/near the Tiber tributary. It was also the most controversial component.

In an election season, issues surface that become talking points for candidates. The best mechanism for addressing the EC flooding, as well as school overcrowding, developer impact fees, finances, etc, were brought up on the campaign trail for both County Executive candidates Kittleman and Ball. The incumbent, Alan Kittleman, defended his plan, while Calvin Ball ran largely on a platform advocating for greater transparency and thoughtful/deliberate evaluation of alternatives.

There isn’t sufficient space to discuss the myriad of reasons why the County Executive race likely ended the way it did, being that there were a myriad of influences operating all at once during the last election. What matters for this post is the outcome, and what has happened since.

Calvin Ball won. And, while much was said during his “100 days” tour (1st 100 days in office), much wasn’t said about the talking point issues that much of the population residing in Howard County’s county seat are waiting to hear about. It is in the realm of social media where one experiences the questions and frustration felt by many regarding any flood mitigation plan, along with lingering “hope” that decisions made last election to effect a change were well-placed.

Ball’s Safe and Sound Plan for Ellicott City is coming up on its second announcement and phase. So far, the winner of the siren sound contest (what one will hear in the event of a flood event), increased stream debris removal, a grant program to help homeowners prepare for the inevitable floods, and the creation of a committee exploring whether a CDC should be created for Ellicott City, have been the highlight announcements. Ball also testified for our General Assembly delegation on behalf of a Bill that will bring in a few millions for flood mitigation efforts for Frederick, Washington and Howard counties. That funding is also able to be used for “property acquisition”, according to the press release from Courtney Watson.

Property Aquisition. Last thing we heard in main stream media, Ball was continuing the discussions with lower Main Street property owners that had been started by the prior administration. Speculation abounded regarding how much would be paid to the building owners for their property. It’s been said that Ball himself asked the previous administration to add a provision that would take into account insurance payouts when negotiating for a potential purchase price. Concerns were raised in the community that a potential “buyout” was happening, with fair market value not being made part of the equation . How would the County decide what to pay for those properties? Ball’s request got defeated, but he got elected to be the person who would decide the details of acquisition (including if they would). At one point, it had been announced by the owners of the Tea On The Tiber building that they were fixing up their property, and were going to be reopening it for business this spring. Are the properties completely damaged, or not, and how much are they really worth??

Well, there are answers to some of these questions. And some of the answers create more questions for the County Executive. This is the information that the County is putting out now regarding the condition of the lower Main properties:

There are buildings that are apparently “too damaged to repair”, those that are salvageable , and those that they aren’t disclosing one way or the other. Though it isn’t being disclosed by the County, there is information out there regarding the purchases made so far this year by the County.

*The Tea On The Tiber building (8081 Main St) was acquired for $600,000 on March 15, 2019 from Master’s Ridge, LLC. They had purchased it from CHARLES W Andrews Date: 11/03/2015    Price: $550,000

*8069 Main Street was acquired for $985,000 on February 13, 2019 by the County. It had been originally purchased from Richard and Elaine Willis on March 6, 1987 for $168,500 by Mr Berkowitz.

*8109-8113 Main Street was acquired by the County for $1,050,000 on February 25, 2019. It had originally been purchased by Charles Wehland, his wife, and 2 friends from the estate of Samuel Caplan (Wehland was the estate’s personal representative). 

A cursory glance reveals an odd anomaly. The building that was relocateable, and presumably was having work done to it so that it can be reopened, was purchased for less money than the ones “too damaged to repair”?? That may argue against any theory of monies being given for market value, though it’s possible that older holdings (acquired in the 80s) may not have had adequate (or any) flood insurance proceeds which caused the County to factor that into their offer equation??

Originally, it was going to be written that “maybe this is somehow good news for Ellicott City? After all, if those buildings are worth that much in their current state, one can imagine the values of the properties that are in great shape!” That was before it was noted on the transactions that they are listed as (correctly) “non-arms length” which means that they would NOT be included in any analysis of the area of comparable properties for valuation purposes by a realtor or lender. “Arms-length” transactions are those that happen in the regular selling channels.

It will be interesting to see what the County’s plans are for these buildings and the others they are supposedly acquiring. Being that it’s Financial Literacy Month, and the author knows that topic to be of personal interest to Executive Ball, I will close with: surely buildings purchased for nearly a million EACH are not simply and cavalierly going to be torn down with something as simple as a press release?

Sure would be nice to have some transparent DISCLOSURE regarding what is and isn’t planned in terms of flood mitigation aimed at solving the problem once and for all…as Ball campaigned to do. Ellicott City can’t really be “Safe and Sound” as long as a flooding problem (that pre-dates every person reading this) continues to exist in Ellicott City. The debris removal tracker is nice, but the only tracker many are interested in is one that reveals the work Ball is doing every day to address the problem.

Time’s up on that transparency. There’s been more than enough time spent, assuming it has been…

Note: what’s REALLY going to be interesting is to see the dollar amount spent for Caplan’s. There’s movement going on with them, shuffling whose name the building is titled in on March 12, 2019, and dissolving the partnership that owned the building which was comprised of many of the Howard County development powerhouse families: Reuwer, Taylor and Spahn.

Other Info used for this post:

Property purchased for over 1 million
How much will the County buy THIS one for?