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School site sellers subjected to personal attacks, threats, lawyer says

October 02, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — The attorney for the company that sold Washington County the “West City” elementary school site last month told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that his clients have been subjected to personal attacks and anonymous threats and asked the commissioners to “assist in elevating the conversation.”

“It was the best place for the new school and it was the most cost-efficient alternative,” said Jason Divelbiss, who represented Hagers Crossing Multifamily LLC and its investors David C. Lyles and Doug Moul in the sale of the 16.5-acre property to the county for almost $1.6 million.

“If anyone wants to question that analysis or the conclusions that were reached, that’s fine,” Divelbiss said during the public comment period. “But please don’t stoop to questioning the motives of myself, my clients, or any of the county staff or decision-makers who were involved.”

In a Sept. 23 letter to the editor in The Herald-Mail, Divelbiss criticized Commissioner Terry Baker’s comment that the purchase of the land was “a brutal day” for county taxpayers. Baker also said at the time of the vote Sept. 18 that “nobody is getting three times the assessed value of a property in Washington County.”

Hagers Crossing Multifamily LLC purchased the property from a holding company in 2011 for $525,000.

Divelbiss said Tuesday that people have made personal attacks and “they’ve even stooped to anonymous threats against my clients.”

“This has to end, and I would ask the county commissioners to do anything that’s in their power to please assist in elevating the conversation to where it should be oriented, which is the business terms of the transaction and that analysis,” Divelbiss said.

Divelbiss said earlier in his remarks that his clients purchased the property with the intent to sell it “for its highest and best use,” which would be as an apartment complex. A deal with a potential buyer fell through and Hagers Crossing Multifamily LLC “then negotiated from a strong position with the county, which could have said no at any time,” he said.

Divelbiss said he also wanted to “dispel any myths that have been surrounding” the purchase of the former PNC Bank building next to the county administration building.

Before the final vote to buy the West City property, Baker said he believed “some of the same names” were involved in Hagers Crossing Multifamily LLC as had been involved in the sale of the PNC building several years earlier. The county had so far been unable to use it because of environmental problems, he said.

Lyles was a principal in the limited liability company that bought the PNC building and other downtown properties for $1.4 million in 2006 and sold the building and some lots to the county for $3.3 million in 2008.

“There is nothing in regard to the condition of that building that was withheld or was unknown,” Divelbiss said after he addressed the board. “The inspection and due diligence efforts that the buyer would have gone through, we as the sellers would not be privy to.”

“He’s entitled to his opinion and I’m entitled to mine,” Baker said later. He also said the names of the investors in Hagers Crossing Multifamily LLC would likely not have influenced his vote or those of the other commissioners.

“I voted the way I did because of the way I felt,” Baker said. He and Commissioner Jeffrey Cline voted against the purchase, while Commissioners John Barr, Ruth Anne Callaham and William McKinley voted to approve the purchase.

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