A Fairfax County judge ordered one of Northern Virginia's most valuable parcels of land put up for sale yesterday after developer Theodore N. Lerner and his partners failed to resolve a bitter dispute over who should use the land, located next to the Tysons Corner shopping mall.
Circuit Court Judge Richard J. Jamborsky said he will give potential buyers five months to place their bids before deciding on Oct. 15 who may purchase the 117-acre Tysons II tract. The wooded parcel, across Rte. 123 from the Tysons mall, was to be the site of a second regional shopping center. But years of feuding, lawsuits and traffic problems have kept the land from being developed.
Jamborsky sold the land once before in a dramatic courtroom auction last summer. Shopping center magnate Lerner then agreed to pay $35 million for it -- $20 million more than its current assessed value. But Lerner, who already had a one-quarter interest in the property and in the mall, later bowed out of the deal to buy out his two partners.
The developer blamed his withdrawal on the Virginia highway department, which he said had imposed costly and unreasonable road-building demands on the site.
Two weeks ago Jamborsky ruled that Lerner should forfeit his $1.5 million deposit to his partners, a decision the Maryland businessman is appealing. That ruling cheered Lerner's two partners, Homer Gudelsky, 71, and H. Max Ammerman, 75, but it left them no closer to their goal: quickly selling their interest in the property.
Yesterday lawyers for both sides announced they had reached an agreement on how to sell the land, accepting a compromise that Jamborsky suggested last week. The lawyers, who are also the county's most prominent zoning attorneys, E. A. Prichard and John T. (Til) Hazel, will act as court-appointed commissioners of sale and seek a purchaser for the site.
The agreement was a rare one for Lerner and his two estranged partners, who were once one of the most successful development teams in the Washington area. The dispute is aggravated because Lerner, 56, apparently is willing to wait until development conditions are more favorable, while Ammerman and Gudelsky want to sell as soon as possible, the annual real estate tax bill of $227,378.90 being a major incentive. "He Lerner 's just waiting for Ammerman and Gudelsky to die," Gudelsky said earlier this month.
After Lerner forfeited the $1.5 million, his partners proposed that Lerner be prohibited from bidding again for the land. When Lerner's attorney Hazel suggested that it made little sense to exclude one of the few people who can afford Tysons II, the partners dropped that proposal.
Ammerman and Gudelsky still would not accept Lerner's suggestion that Jamborsky simply conduct another auction. Prichard, the partners' lawyer, complained that only Lerner would bid because only Lerner has spent the money on plans to determine what the property is worth. "He's going to wait around and see if he can pick the property up for a song because nobody else really knows what the answers are," Prichard said in court last week.
Hazel denied that his client is better informed than his partners. "The other side is not really the naive group of widows and orphans you might think," he told the judge. Hazel agreed to give other interested buyers -- particularly Gerald D. Hines, developer of Houston's massive Galleria Mall -- time to study the property and negotiate with the highway department.
At the same time, Lerner's partners agreed to let Lerner have the last word, giving him two weeks to submit a bid after everyone else's deadline has passed. Several participants have speculated that Lerner, who will not comment publicly on the issue, may go to considerable lengths to keep a competitor from building across from his successful Tysons mall.