N.E. neighborhood in limbo after Turner bankruptcy
Town trying to sort out who should fix issues
— 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
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.
Construction on the Ridgely Forest development in North East has come to a halt following the bankruptcy of developer Clark Turner.
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.
Signs referencing former developer Clark Turner are still present throughout Ridgely Forest.