BY BILL BROWN
Takoma Park now owns the McLaughlin School’s back lot.
The city’s winning bid was $253,000, $500 more than the previous bid cast at the outdoor IRS auction. About 40 local residents of all ages, some carrying signs and a banner in favor of preserving the lot as “greenspace,” watched anxiously.
Celebration and cheers followed the auction. So did loud, bitter remarks directed at the other active bidder Joe Edgell. He was representing a hastily organized “Plan C” partnership of city residents who wanted to preserve two thirds of the property as greenspace and develop the other third. Edgell envisioned around 5 housing units along Woodland Avenue. The critical comments were made by members of the “Plan B” group, which Edgell said he belonged to up until last week.
Auctioneer Tim Smith ends the bidding. Photo by Bill Brown.
“Plan B” was formed to bid on the property in case the city didn’t. They raised around $115,000 in donations – cash they handed to the city if needed for the required immediate payment. Or, the city can use the money to maintain the property after purchase.
Edgell’s “C” group wanted to buy and develop the land responsibly – as they saw it – but, city ownership is the next best thing, said Edgell. Better the city than an outside developer who might overdevelop the site.
Joe Edgell (in red jacket) during the bidding.
Plan B members were stunned when Edgell began bidding against the city. Afterwards they made caustic remarks at him, saying his group forced the city to spend an extra $186,000 over the $67,251.86 minimum bidding price. Edgell said that if his group had won, it would have saved Takoma Park the expense of both the purchase and future maintenance.
Despite the unexpected bidding war Takoma Park mayor Bruce Williams seemed pleased by the city’s purchase. He said that it could take a long time to untangle the property’s tax liens and encumbrances. Between back taxes, payments and interest owed to the state, county, city, and the Bank of America, he estimated the total owed was $500,000.
The parcel as seen from Woodland Avenue looking toward the school building. Photo by Bill Brown.
The auction raised about half that amount. A judge, said the mayor, will oversee the distribution of that amount to the all the institutions owed. They may or may not want to settle for that amount. If not, the city is now responsible for paying.
Former city mayor Ed Sharp said of the city’s purchase “This is what people wanted to have happen,” as he surveyed the happy crowd. However he added, “some day market forces will have to come into play.”
If the city keeps the property as a park, it will assume the costs of maintenance. If it sells the property it will have to face the same development issues.
The woods are as thickly entangled with invasive vines as the property is with tax liens. Photo by Bill Brown.
Eventually the other 2 school parcels, including the building site, may be for sale. If so, combining all three and developing the whole lot would be better than developing each parcel separately. That was the city council’s general opinion at an earlier January meeting. If the back lot parcel was part of the whole, there would be less pressure to overdevelop the wooded section to make a profit.
One resident activist said he would not be happy if the whole lot were developed or turned into a park, which he claimed was the county’s plan. Brian Robinson would rather not see the old school’s current tenant – an adult day care center – be ejected in favor of upscale residential development or a park. He accused the city government of being “pocketbook progressives who are running a homeowner’s association.”
Residents were on hand to show developers what the community wanted. Photo by Bill Brown.
He said he was frustrated to see how easily city residents raised $115,000 to purchase the lot when his group, the Friends of Old Takoma, “is in desperate need of community funding.”
“If we could raise this kind of money for causes that benefit the elderly and poor people and public services – that would be wonderful,” said Robinson.
Auctioneer Tim Smith talks to city representative (in red coat, foreground) following the bidding. Joe Edgell in background. A third registered bidder, representing a conservationist group, did not bid. Photo by Bill Brown.
The McLaughlin School (Christian Washington-McLaughlin School) is a former private school with a 2.68 acre lot behind it. It is in Ward 3 near the corner of New Hampshire and Poplar Avenues. The lot up for auction does not include the school building.