Mystery bidder: Barnes Lumber sells to unidentified buyer

Three bidders put up $50,000 to have a chance to buy J. Bruce Barnes Lumber, an institution in the heart of Crozet that had been touted as a future downtown mall before it skidded to the foreclosure auction block on June 27. The winning bid was $1.9 million. The winning buyer? He won't say.

And in a crowd with a number of development insiders, it was odd that no one recognized the winning bidder.

"I'm not authorized to say who I work for or who I am," said the striped-shirt-wearing, white-haired man as he walked through the parking lot surrounded by a scrum of reporters. Nor would he reveal any inkling of plans the new owner has for the nearly 19 acres of prime Crozet real estate before escaping in his dark blue Ford pickup.

More than 100 people had gathered inside a Barnes warehouse, most presumably there to buy the 400 lots of lumberyard equipment and milled wood.

Shortly after noon, the bidding on tarps and hand tools stopped and switched over to the higher-ticket real estate.

Lumberyard owner Carroll Conley had been working to rezone the heavy-industrial property to a mixed use of office, retail, and residential when Union First Market Bank foreclosed on his $1.9 million credit line.

Auctioneer Dick Heatwole tried to get the bidding going at $3.5 million– with no takers. He kept dropping the price until it hit $1 million, and still no one made a bid.

"Three hundred thousand," said Kent Higginbotham of Orange.

"This isn't going the right way," bemoaned Heatwole.

Bidding inched up to $450,000 when Union First senior VP Dave Clelland stepped in to boost the price to $1.4 million.

Charlottesville developer Keith Woodard offered $1.5 million, and he battled it out with the mysterious striped-shirt man until Woodard refused to go beyond $1.85 million. Sold for $1.9 million.

"You take the economic times, and I don't think that it's that bad," auctioneer Heatwole said after the sale. "This is a misfit in this part of town," he added, dubious that another lumber business operator would want to step in.

"Given the risk with rezoning, the price probably wasn't unfair," says Chris Lee with Piedmont Development Group, which had been working with Conley and hoped to work with Woodard on rezoning the property. Albemarle County assesses the two parcels that make up the lumberyard for $3.29 million

Piedmont's president, Katurah Roell, well-known on the local development scene, was another who had no idea who the buyer was.

Two people who do know include the trustee, Suzanne Thomas of the law firm of Lenhart Obenshain and banker Clelland, but neither would divulge the mystery man's name.

The only hint Thomas would offer: In 30 days the deed will be recorded.

Carroll Conley has worked at the lumber yard since he started as a truck driver there in 1968. He bought what had been S.W. Barnes Lumber in 1988, and named it after his boss and friend, J. Bruce Barnes.

"When you've been at a place that long," he says, "it's hard." And although era of Barnes Lumber is gone, Conley says he hopes a street or alley will carry the Barnes name.

"The land went cheap for $1.9 million," says Conley, who notes that's way less than the assessment upon which he was paying taxes.

He spent the day there as the property where he'd worked his whole life was dismantled, and he checked to make sure the doors were locked at the end of the day.

"I'll still keep my eyes on the place," says Conley. "They haven't taken my key yet."

Updated 11am June 28 with Carroll Conley remarks.

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I truly home that he will continue with rezoning and make it a wonderful, beautiful, and profitable walking area. I would be horrified to see it become a lumber yard or heavy industrial business that pollutes the air with chemicals given that the area is now surrounded by residential homes and an elementary school! Fingers crossed that the new owners will do the right thing for residents, for the environment, and for the future of Crozet.


"I would be horrified to see it become a lumber yard"

That is so disrespectful to Carrol Conley. There were people there selling hotdogs and drinks like it was some kind of festival as this man's life'w work was dismantled.

For decades that company provided jobs while manufacturing a renewable resource.

Situated on the rail, for years it shipped, and the property still has the potential to ship by rail, the greenest form of transportation.

Bad for the environment is to crowd the place with impervious surface and synthetic materials buildings that suck up electricity, etc.

You want Disney, go to Disney.

One has to wonder if the County (and local crybabies) were not so difficualt to deal with if this property could have been rezoned and some value retained. I wonder if the bank foreclosing at this juncture (and presumumably taking a loss) had to do with the the snails pace and arbitrary county policy that chokes peoples individual rights to their own property.

I suppose the county will have to accept the new sales price as a proper appraisal and lower the property taxes accordingly.

Perhaps the hook should check with a psychiatrist about it and see if the zoning was not accomplished because somebody was fat.

Really? Do you truly think that the recently finished road to nowhere in this area was going nowhere? The county certainly knew JBB was going out of business and hoped that some developer had a chance to steal a piece of property in DT Crozet. I'm fed up with the County's "growth area". Will not be too much longer before I'm out. "Striped shirt guy" is probably there for a developer that is in Albermarle's pocket.

No, that is not disrespectful to the previous owners, and it is not my intention to be disrespectful to anyone. The business had its time there, but once the decision was made to build a new library, to build up the residential communities situated beside the property, and to plan for a downtown walking area... then a heavy industrial business should not have been an option. THAT is my point-- and my concern. Talk to the Department of Environmental Quality about what mills put into the air you breath-- and what they monitor and don't-- I have. Do the research. I am absolutely NOT advocating for Disney there (or anywhere in the state of Virginia). In fact, I lived in one of the few towns that successfully fought off a Walmart. However, I do not want to see a carpet or plastics or cement manufacturer or another mill! I WOULD love to see shops or restaurants that we could eat outdoors in front of without having the pollutants of an industrial business blown in our faces. And I believe that Conley supported the change in rezoning and the plan for change.

i honestly hope that someone does maintain the current mill, converting to a mini-mall or mixed 'use' does not serve the community long-term. what did serve the community long-term was the establishment of long-term jobs for families, and a business that uses infrastructure properly. we will miss the conley's!

I guess I am hoping that the new buyer does exactly what they want to do with the property--since, after all it is theirs to decide. We will miss the Conleys as well. Godspeed to them.

I'll agree with Honeycomb. The mill was a good neighbor. The mill hired local, didn't skirt federal labor or immigration laws, and treated its employees well. These qualities are rare today's list of dwindling local industrial employers, and perhaps that is one reason they struggled to compete with other competitors. I am aware of a drying kiln and saws, but not the dangerous airborne chemicals that some local advocates of the Master Plan describe.

Sharon, like many good-hearted residents in Crozet, I believe you are probably a good soul. The foot soldiers and tireless volunteers for any leadership's plan are usually the good, loyal souls who want to help and read avidly on their responsibility to walk to work/shopping and preserve rural homeowners way of life.

However, consider the contrasting claims in the statements (or what you have been told). How can the plan for "the change in rezoning and the plan for change" be the environmental panacea you describe?

Like much current land in the Master Plan, the Barnes tract is set for over 32-36 homes per acre, vertical/multi-story housing, and retail. 29 Places has half the residential density of Crozet Master Plan. If so, how is this kind of development intensity saving air quality in Western Albemarle? Does sending more commuters into Western Albemarle truly keep the air clean?

Like Paul and Honeycomb, I see what is lost. The financial costs, taxpayer costs, environmental costs, and noise and pollution of a plan designed to increasing real estate values in downtown Crozet have been, and will be, tremendous.

Right now, Crozet has pro-urbanization advocacy group, pro-urbanization leadership/representatives, landowners interesting in increasing their value of their downtown holdings, new urbanist enthusiasts working with Western Albemarle residents on dense rezonings, and pro-growth/conservative newspaper. 1.9 million to play urban development ball in such a rare political climate is a bargain.

It's strange people will say a 32-36 homes per acre or a walking mall you have to drive to is better for the environment than the lumber mill.

Barnes cut and dried lumber. That's it. No Chemicals. Even the kiln was bio-fueled with wood scraps for the most part. It managed its own stormwater...where are the retention ponds and giant pipes to take water away? They don't exist because they are not needed.

How in the world is increasing gridlock in Western Sprawlbemarle suppposed to be better for the environment?

And the in this tract with residential and retail BS and there goes one of the last viable places to ship by rail in Albemarle. The rail access is a resource, that like a natural resource once destroyed is gone forever.

great location for mill for Virginia Uranium. All the republicans from Gov Bob , Allen, Hurt on down are for it.

Great spot to refine the uranium we need for more nuclear power plants. And close by uranium deposits in Madison, Orange, and other areas close to C'ville. Also, the French government's company, AREVA, which builds nuclear power plants is nearby in Lynchburg. Like Gov McDonnell and Rep Hurt say Virginia can be the uranium and nuclear Capital of the World.

When the deed is recorded it is sure to be in some newly-formed LLC and we still won't know who the real owner is. One thing is sure, this will be a vacant property for a while.

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