April 22, 2010

Analysis: State buys Baltimore home without looking inside

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The most controversial item at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting focused on a disagreement over less than $40,000, a small dispute for a panel that regularly authorizes multimillion dollar state contracts.

But this was an interesting one, as Comptroller Peter Franchot criticized the University System of Maryland for how it valued a property that Coppin State University is trying to buy. The parcel, at 1807 Thomas Ave. in Baltimore, was valued by appraisers who never went inside of the building.

Apparently, the owner would not let either of the two appraisers into his home, which Coppin wants to demolish along with several others to make room for a new science and technology center.

The state approved the contract, which amounts to $150,000. The owner will get $65,000 for his home, and $85,700 to relocate. But Franchot had an issue with the purchase price. A different appraisal had valued the property as low as $28,000, and Franchot wondered why the state had accepted the higher one.

“We’ve never seen the inside of this house, and we’re going to pay $65,000 for it?” Franchot asked.

University officials described the owner as “a difficult person” and characterized the negotiations as tough.

“It doesn’t sound like there was much toughness on our side,” Franchot responded.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also sits on the three-member BPW with State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, was less concerned about the condition of the interior of the building.

“Well, we’re looking to knock it down, right?” he asked.

Both Kopp and Franchot asked the university system for more information about how they purchase property, but the measure ultimately passed, 2-1 with Franchot opposed.

-Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com