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Salem -- The family that sold Salem Country Gardens more than a decade ago reacquired the well-known flower and garden center on Saturday in a tax foreclosure auction.
Todd Burnett bid $591,000 to put the business back in his family's hands. Burnett's parents, David and Cheryl, started Salem Country Gardens in late 1983 after a decade in the landscaping business.
Salem Country Gardens was foreclosed upon because Salem Country Realty LLC and Robert Matthew Industries, corporate entities that owned the property, owed the town more than $182,000 in real estate taxes as of the first of the year. That sum has grown since then.
Todd Burnett said Saturday that he intends to keep the business operating as customers have come to know it. He said it will partner well with a wholesale nursery that he owns and operates in Canterbury.
"We want to try our best to restore it to its former state of business," said Burnett, 42, who said he envisions a grand opening next year on Easter weekend. "A lot of maintenance needs to be done, but we built it the first time."
Salem Country Gardens, located at 380 New London Road (Route 85), has typically operated from March to late October. Burnett's parents sold it in 1998 to Agway Inc., a Syracuse, N.Y.-based farm-related cooperative.
Two years later, it was sold to a four-man local partnership, which included Robert LaSaracina. He has operated the business for more than 10 years and said recently he has 15 seasonal employees.
The auction sale settled tax liens totaling nearly $148,000 on grand lists from 2006 to 2009, according to Tracy Collins, the attorney appointed by the court to oversee the auction. Burnett will also be responsible for $51,252 in taxes levied since foreclosure proceedings began.
Burnett cast the winning bid after the auction began at $590,000. He said he contemplated opening a second business of his own from scratch, but that idea was scrapped when it became apparent that his family's former business was for sale.
"This being a known entity and where I grew up, I thought this was the better option," Burnett said.
First Selectman Kevin Lyden and other town officials attended the brief auction. Lyden said the town, after working with LaSaracina, had reached a point where it was forced to collect the taxes it was due.
Lyden said he was pleased to see the business acquired by someone the town knows.
"They're excited about trying to resurrect the property," Lyden said.
Burnett said that he was uncertain what will become of the ReStore, a Habitat for Humanity-run business that leases space from Salem Country Gardens.
The ReStore acquires and re-sells furniture, construction supplies and other items at reduced prices.
Proceeds go toward Habitat for Humanity building projects in the area.
The foreclosure auction required that Burnett submit $105,000 to bid on the property.
It is a 14.54-acre site, which includes greenhouses, the garden center and the 9,600 square feet the ReStore leases.
The business is annually one of the highest-assessed on the town grand list. According to a Sept. 5 court filing, appraiser William Newman appraised Salem Country Gardens on Aug. 21 at $1,020,000 — $400,000 in land and $620,000 in buildings.
Foreclosure documents show the annual property taxes are $24,840.