Mysterious Buyer Gets Barnes Lumber for $1.9 Million

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The Barnes lumber yard from above.

An unknown buyer purchased the 18.7-acre J.B. Barnes Lumber Company in downtown Crozet at auction June 27. Foreclosure trustee Suzanne Thomas of the Lenhart Obenshain law firm in Charlottesville said the buyer’s identity will not be known until the sale is finalized and a deed recorded, which must happen by July 27 or the property goes to the second-highest bidder. She declined to reveal the buyer’s identity.

Three bidders presented Thomas with cashier’s checks for $50,000, qualifying them to bid on the real estate. When the time came, though, only two bidders contested for the parcels. Keith Woodard of Woodard Properties stayed in the bidding up to the $1.85 million mark. He had Katurah Roell, who has put out a plan for developing the site, at his elbow.

The mysterious buyer was apparently represented by an agent who steadily stepped up his bid. That man declined to identify himself to reporters and after settling the deposit with the lawyers, drove away, politely but firmly tight-lipped. No one recognized him. His Ford pickup bore a Hanover County tax sticker.

Heatwole Auction Team of Harrisonburg, featuring auctioneers Dick and Rick Heatwole, handled the sale. Heatwole registered nearly 130 bidders for the tool auction, which numbered about 340 lots and took nearly all day.

At noon, standing on a red box, Dick Heatwole read aloud the public notice of the land sale.  The property sold “as is” and with no warranties. The buyer must remove the two sawdust-burning kilns and the dust collection system. The county assessed the property at $3.285 million, he noted.

“I might take less today,” said Heatwole, who asked for opening bids at $3 million.

Dick Heatwole

When silence answered that suggestion, he dropped that plea by $100,000 notches. At $2.7 million, he said, “Give me an opening bid!” At $2.3 million, he said, “That’s a million dollar discount!” At $1.5 million, he lamented, “That’s half the assessment!”

A bid of $300,000 was called out from the crowd.

“This isn’t going the right way,” said Heatwole. But he came back with a call for $400,000.

A representative of the foreclosing bank, Union First Market, declared a bid of $1.4 million. From there the two bidders squared off, but within a couple minutes, Woodard was out. Heatwole sought another bidder, making three passes through the crowd while declaring the standing bid. No one spoke up.

“Woodard was serious,” said Roell, “but he had his limit. That’s a high price.”

Thomas said she expected more bidders to compete and a higher final price.

“Given the risk, it’s probably worth 1.9 [million],” said Chris Lee of Piedmont Development Group. “But you’ve got to get it rezoned.”

Former lumberyard owner Carroll Conley said of the mystery buyer, “I’ve never seen him before. He got a real buy.”

Conley and his wife, Donna, joined by their daughter Candy and son-in-law Mike Maupin, watched from the back. “I don’t think I’ll get a dime,” said Conley of his prospects. He was hoping it would go for its tax value.

“It’s the sale of the century for Crozet,” noted Freeman Allen. “An heirloom business in town is gone.”

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