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land sale looms for museum site
U.S. National Slavery Museum owes Fredericksburg in excess of $140,000 in back taxes; if taxes go unpaid, land is eligible for sale starting Saturday

 A display of designs for The U.S. National Slavery Museum is peeling and covered with dirt.
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Date published: 12/29/2010

By KELLY HANNON

The U.S. National Slavery Museum is facing a Dec. 31 deadline to pay an overdue tax bill to Fredericksburg or risk losing the land where it hoped to build its museum.

If the tax bill remains unpaid, the city can start the process of selling the museum's 38-acre property in Celebrate Virginia to collect the money.

The slavery museum has not paid city taxes on the land since 2008. Through January 2011, the museum owes the city $147,377.33, according to the city treasurer's office.

Beginning Jan. 1, Fredericksburg can decide to sell the land, although it is not a swift undertaking.

In an interview this week, Fredericksburg Treasurer G.M. Haney said property owners notified last January about overdue tax bills just had their properties advertised for sale in late fall.

Property owners who owe outstanding taxes will be sent letters by mid-January notifying them of their overdue amounts and of the potential for their property to be sold, Haney said.

The city does not give a specific date in the letters for owners to respond. But after several months--Haney said typically, two to four months --a private attorney is hired to pursue selling the land.

"People normally come in and take care of it before it gets to the sale stage," Haney said. "I'm not sure that'll happen with the slavery museum."

Haney said he intends to meet with the Fredericksburg City Council after the letter has been sent to the slavery museum but before he asks a private attorney to continue with the sale.

The property would be sold with any restrictions it currently has, Haney said.

One of those restrictions is that the property be used for a cultural museum, said Jud Honaker, president of commercial development for The Silver Cos., which has been developing Celebrate Virginia. That requirement could limit interest in the land if it is sold at auction, Honaker said.

The 38-acre property was donated to the museum by the Silver Cos. in 2002.

The Silver Cos. would have the right to bid on the land at a public auction, just like anyone else, Honaker said.

From time to time the company discusses whether to buy the land if it is sold at auction.


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