Potomac News Online | Businessman backs out of Haymarket land sale

ather than having them freeze the sale, I stole the ice,” Manassas businessman Creston M. Owen said Monday of his decision to pull out of negotiations with the Town of Haymarket over a block of the downtown area.

Town council members voted Aug. 11 to table discussion, due to a legal hold placed on the property. The three voting members present agreed to “decline to move forward with the purchase agreement in light of the lis pendens action, and we will further evaluate the situation at the appropriate time.”

“There’s not much we can do,” Councilman David P. Taylor said in a phone interview Monday.

Owen told the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger on Aug. 12 he would wait for the lawsuit’s conclusion. But shortly thereafter, he said he decided to instruct his attorney to pull out of negotiations.

“The issue is, the Town of Haymarket has not communicated with me or my attorney in any way, shape or form,” Owen said in a phone interview Monday. “I’m just sitting back feeling like I’m being played.”

“The mayor was the default conduit for communication. If Mr. Owen felt there was any lack of communication, I would have liked him to inform the council; because we certainly made the mayor well aware of the council’s … desires … for the property,” Taylor said.

The Town Center property under consideration included several buildings. One was the Haymarket Grocery, which was condemned in January. The owner of the Haymarket Grocery business, John K. Jinn, has sued the town.

In a $5 million lawsuit, Jinn alleges that condemning the building was a ploy to end the lease, which ran until 2010. The lease included an option to renew for an additional 10 years and also the right to have the first chance to buy the property should the town put it on the market.

“Despite it’s representations to Mr. Jinn, the Town’s real intent was to collect rent from him until a purchaser could be located. Once a buyer was located, the Town intended to create a pretext (condemnation) to terminate the lease and sell the entire parcel,” Jinn’s lawsuit alleges.

In July, Jinn filed a lis pendens, or legal hold, on the grocery building which froze the sale of Town Center until the lawsuit is concluded.

Owen said he was confused when Haymarket mayor John R. “Jack” Kapp arrived at his attorney’s office with documents about the property that Owen had previously requested, after Owen had read about the town council’s vote to hold off on the sale.

Kapp said he delivered the materials to the attorneys office last week after the Aug. 11 motion.

“The council didn’t vote not to proceed, they just wanted to get the lis pendens cleared up,” Kapp said in a phone interview Monday.

Haymarket’s town council is also undergoing political turnaround: a new councilwoman, Haymarket business owner Pamela Stutz, was appointed to replace councilwoman Michelle Neal-Heard, who resigned in May. Another councilwoman, Lynda Farr, has said she will be moving to New York shortly. Long-time mayor Kapp is resigning at the end of the month. He will be retiring to Williamsburg.

Taylor suggested that ambiguities between oral and written communications from Owen had clouded the deal for the council. He cited a discrepancy over the type of survey of the property Owen was requesting the town fund as an example.

“The whole deal seemed to be lacking in detail from the beginning,” Taylor said.

Owen maintains that if the town becomes interested in dealing with him at a later time, he’ll welcome the discussion.

“We didn’t slam the door, we just said when you figure out what you’re doing, call us,” Owen said. “The town of Haymarket is a great opportunity, but there are a lot of other towns out there that want people to invest their dollars.”

He mentioned a $16 million project he’s currently working on in Manassas, and other opportunities available in the county. However, he said those projects would not interfere with negotiations in Haymarket, should town officials decide to contact him again.

“I could do 10 projects at the same time if I had to. Once the town figures out what it wants to do, I hope they call me,” Owen said.

Taylor seemed to express equal enthusiasm for discussion, saying the council would “absolutely” be interested in continuing conversation with Owen after the lawsuit is settled and the new council members seated.

“I think the council wants to get the best deal for the taxpayers, and if that comes from Creston, that’s phenomenal,” Taylor said.

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