While employees and patrons of Tim's Rivershore Restaurant were picketing and pleading with county officials to give the restaurant's owner a break on permit violations, owner Timothy A. Bauckman was negotiating a deal with a developer to buy the popular crab house and outdoor bar.
Bauckman announced last week that he sold his restaurant and other properties to developer KSI. He said he sold the restaurant for $3 million. He sold another parcel, which includes ridgeline views of the Potomac, to KSI for an undisclosed price. The restaurant will remain open until the end of 2005 and perhaps beyond, Bauckman said.
The disclosure of the deal upset some of Bauckman's supporters, who had picketed county meetings, written angry letters to newspapers and presented the Prince William Board of County Supervisors with 1,800 signatures calling on the county to allow Tim's to fully reopen. They portrayed the dispute as a battle in which government bullies and a powerful developer were teaming up to push a little guy out of business. KSI had expressed interest in Bauckman's properties in the past.
"We were all hoodwinked," said Keith Kessler, a restaurant patron who wrote letters in support of Bauckman's fight with county legal and code enforcement officials. "He was asking everybody to help in his defense while he was selling out to KSI."
Not true, Bauckman said. All he was trying to do was keep the restaurant open.
"We thought we could get the restaurant in compliance quicker with [KSI] than without them," he said. "I thought everyone would be happier. Now I think everyone has looked at it like it was some sort of game or something. That's the furthest from the truth. It's about survival. We want to stay in business."
County officials taped off the riverside decks at the Dumfries restaurant last month in an escalating effort to get the restaurant into compliance. County officials said they took the action June 9 because Bauckman rebuilt and expanded an outdoor seating area without proper permission after Hurricane Isabel heavily damaged it. They said Bauckman then refused to cooperate with county officials and rebuilt his restaurant his way. County officials said their concerns also include a lack of safe parking, customers walking over railroad tracks, sewage disposal issues, fire safety issues, unapproved plumbing and electrical work and a lack of an approved site plan.
Bauckman said Friday that efforts to get the restaurant in compliance are moving quickly, and he praised county officials who have put his project on the fast track. He also acknowledged that he had caused some of the problems.
"I'm not totally an angel on this deal," he said. "We're trying to get it squared away."
The deck closing set off what appeared to be a grass-roots groundswell to keep the gritty riverfront crab and beer joint open. On June 15 and June 22, dozens of employees picketed outside the county building and gave impassioned speeches on behalf of Tim's. Speakers criticized county staff members for cracking down on a small businessman and ridiculed county supervisors for not doing enough to help a Prince William retail landmark.
But, weeks earlier, Bauckman had apparently been seriously negotiating with KSI. A June 9 letter from Bauckman to KSI, obtained by The Washington Post, said he looked "forward to a mutually acceptable sale of these properties."
"I'm personally coming to the conclusion it was all a charade," said county board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R), who took heat from restaurant supporters for stopping a debate over the issue at a heated June 22 meeting. "There was an attempt to sell the land and the restaurant for some time, and there just wasn't any desire to come into compliance."
Andi Boyles, a manager at Tim's and one of the most impassioned speakers defending the restaurant, said employees still believe Bauckman is doing right by them.
"I don't think it was a sellout sort of situation," Boyles said. "Tim did what he had to do for the restaurant. Anyone who knows Tim knows he would never do that. He would not have put everyone here through hell to do that."