N.E. neigh­bor­hood in limbo af­ter Turner bankruptcy

Town try­ing to sort out who should fix is­sues

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JES­SICA IAN­NETTA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— The bankruptcy of Clark Turner Homes has left the Ridgely For­est com­mu­nity in limbo and the town fil­ing a com­plaint in court in hopes of com­plet­ing work on the un­fin­ished development.

The development off Route 7 was once owned by prom­i­nent home­builder and de­vel­oper Clark Turner, who filed

NORTH EAST

for bankruptcy last No­vem­ber. That bankruptcy fil­ing wasn’t the start of Ridgely For­est’s prob­lems but it has fur­ther com­pli­cated the sit­u­a­tion.

In the months be­fore Turner’s bankruptcy, work on the development had es­sen­tially stopped and con­struc­tion al­ready com­pleted wasn’t be­ing main­tained. Streets are in need of re­pair, much of the land­scap­ing is over­grown, and some street­lights and side­walks haven’t been in­stalled.

Ridgely For­est no longer has an ac­tive home­owner’s as­so­ci­a­tion. Signs ad­ver­tis- ing Clark Turner Homes still dot the land­scape and it’s not clear who — if any­one — owns the development.

In No­vem­ber, prior to Turner’s bankruptcy fil­ing, the town de­cided to call in about $2.5 mil­lion worth of bonds re­lated to the Ridgely For­est project. But af­ter sev­eral months of get­ting un­sat­is­fac­tory re­sponses from the bond com­pany, North East plans to file a com­plaint in court within the next week in hopes of fin­ish­ing what’s al­ready been built, said

Melissa Cook-MacKenzie, North East town ad­min­is­tra­tor.

“This would com­plete the project as it is,” she told the town board Wed­nes­day night. “Our hope is that we can go in and do the work nec­es­sary to get it up to the stan­dard that it needs to be for the ex­ist­ing home­own­ers.” A his­tory of prob­lems The orig­i­nal plan for Ridgely For­est called for 129 sin­gle fam­ily homes to be built in the first phase of the project and an­other 100 town­houses to be built in a se­cond phase, with even more phases to come. The town de­cided to an­nex the development in De­cem­ber 2006.

As of right now, how­ever, only 95 homes — a mix of sin­gle fam­ily units and town­houses — have been com­pleted, Cook-MacKenzie said.

North East en­tered into pub­lic works agree­ments for the Ridgely For­est project in 2006 and 2007 and, un­der those agree­ments, which are stan­dard for most de­vel­op­ments, cer­tain work — such as street paving and re­pairs, land­scap­ing, side­walks and street­lights — needs to be com­pleted by a set date or the agree­ment needs to be ex­tended.

As part of these agree­ments, de­vel­op­ers typ­i­cally put up bonds, which can be called in should sce­nar­ios such as the one at Ridgely For­est arise and used to com­plete the work.

The town at­tempted to ex­tend the pub­lic works agree­ments to no avail, Cook-MacKenzie said. The de­vel­oper had also spo­ken to the town at var­i­ous times

about re­struc­tur­ing the phases in which the project would be built but noth­ing came of this ei­ther, she added.

So, in No­vem­ber, the town sent a de­fault no­tice to the bond com­pany. The bond com­pany then asked North East for a full list of the work that needed to be com­pleted. But af­ter sev­eral months of re­ceiv­ing un­sat­is­fac­tory an­swers from the bond com­pany, North East de­cided to file a com­plaint in court, Cook-MacKenzie said.

Be­cause so much work still needed to be done, the town also en­gaged an en­gi­neer­ing firm to out­line ex­actly where more work is needed. These en­gi­neer­ing doc­u­ments will also be help­ful for fil­ing the of­fi­cial com­plaint, CookMacKen­zie said.

So far, Cook-MacKenzie has re­ceived only two or three com­plaints from Ridgely For­est home­own­ers and said she sus­pects many do not fully re­al­ize what is go­ing on with the development. To keep them in­formed, the town has sent out let­ters to all the home­own­ers invit­ing them to a meet­ing on Aug. 31 so the town can an­swer their ques­tions and pro­vide up­dates, she said.

The sit­u­a­tion with Ridgely For­est is rare, Cook-MacKenzie said, and the town board is gen­er­ally will­ing to ex­tend pub­lic works agree­ments as long as work is on­go­ing. But due to the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and stalled work, the town felt it had to act, she said.

“In 30-plus years, this is only the se­cond time we’ve ever had to call a bond in,” Cook-MacKenzie told the board. “I think this project will have a de­vel­oper one day.” Own­er­ship changes As the town takes its case to court, it still re­mains un- clear who — if any­one — owns the development.

Ac­cord­ing to Cook-MacKenzie, the name listed on the pub­lic works agree­ment is CT Ridgely For­est Business Trust. But Mary­land Depart­ment of As­sess­ments and Tax­a­tion Business Ser­vices records show that the com­pany was for­feited in Oc­to­ber 2013 for “fail­ure to file prop­erty re­turn for 2012.”

Shortly be­fore Turner filed for bankruptcy last No­vem­ber, Bob Ward Homes — through an agree­ment with Klein Enterprises — be­gan sell­ing homes in both Ridgely For­est and Charlestown Cross­ing, an­other Turner development lo­cated in the North East area but out­side of town lim­its.

Signs for Clark Turner Homes are still present through­out the Ridgely For­est development and the phone num­ber on those signs is listed as a num­ber for the now-de­funct Clark Turner Homes LLC. But the an­swer­ing ma­chine mes­sage for that num­ber says the caller has reached Bob Ward Homes.

On Thurs­day, Rachel Hughes, a sales rep­re­senta- tive at Bob Ward Homes, said the com­pany was sell­ing homes in the development at one point but is no longer ac­tively do­ing so.

“We might be mov­ing in in the fu­ture,” she said. “I don’t have an ex­act time­line.”

Mes­sages left at Klein Enterprises ask­ing about its in­volve­ment were not re­turned, though the Ridgely For­est development is not listed on its web­site.

Caves Val­ley Part­ners, a Tow­son-based firm, was also in­volved with the Ridgely For­est project at some point but no longer is, said Bran­don Freel, a prin­ci­pal at the firm.

“It was a Clark Turner project that we in­vested in with Clark Turner,” Freel said, de­clin­ing fur­ther com­ment.

Caves Val­ley is in­volved though, in an­other for­mer Clark Turner prop­erty in North East. In March, the com­pany met with town of­fi­cials to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of amend­ing cur­rent zon­ing laws to al­low a cross dock ware­house fa­cil­ity to be built at the site of the for­mer Nazarene Camp.

The nearly 60-acre prop­erty lo­cated off Route 272 has been va­cant since the Nazarene church sold the land to North East Com­mons LLC, of which Caves Val­ley is a man­ag­ing part­ner, in 2008. Plans for a shop­ping cen­ter — which had been ap­proved by the town plan­ning com­mis­sion — fizzled when the econ­omy did and, in the past few years, the prop­erty own­ers have been look­ing at more com­mer­cial uses for the site.

Caves Val­ley is cur­rently do­ing a traf­fic im­pact study of the area around the for­mer Chris­tian camp and plans to meet with the plan­ning com­mis­sion again in Septem­ber.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IAN­NETTA

Con­struc­tion on the Ridgely For­est development in North East has come to a halt fol­low­ing the bankruptcy of de­vel­oper Clark Turner.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF ELI­JAH BECKEL

Eli­jah Beckel and Stephanie Sieminski, of North East, pose at their re­cent wed­ding shower next to a dec­o­ra­tion with what was sup­posed to be their wed­ding date: Aug. 13, 2016.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IAN­NETTA

Signs ref­er­enc­ing for­mer de­vel­oper Clark Turner are still present through­out Ridgely For­est.

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