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County, developer, bonding company near pact on Pilgrim's Ridge


County officials appear close to a settlement with a developer who failed to complete a North Laurel development and the bonding company that has refused to pay for the unfinished work.

Public Works Director James Irvin last week told residents of Pilgrim's Ridge town houses that they would know within two weeks whether the deal succeeds. If it does, the work could be completed in about two months.

If it doesn't, the county will sue the developer and bonding company.

"I think we've got an agreement in principle right now," said Marybeth McNamara, attorney for developer John W. Steffey Sr. She would not give details of the agreement, but said Friday she expected it would be concluded in several days.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, whose district includes the town houses, and Irvin visited the development Thursday to talk to residents and see what work needs to be done.

"It's a mess, isn't it?" said Ecker as he stood next to the debris-cluttered, unfinished storm water management pond.

Up a hill, Ecker and Pendergrass saw a spring that bubbles up in the middle of a parking lot.

The community needs to complete paving on one of its two streets, correct spring and standing water problems, complete the storm water management pond, recoup $6,000 spent to remove dead trees left by the developer, repair sidewalk and curb damage, complete the process of dedicating the streets and drainage system to the county, and correct problems caused by the developer's failure to file tax returns for the community association.

"The county dragged its feet until Shane Pendergrass put some pressure on them last year," said Pam Bofrune, who has lived in the community five years.

By then, the developer and the partnership that originally owned the property, First Ridge Limited, had not complied with repeated demands from county officials to finish the development. In addition, the company that held the $233,725 bond guaranteeing completion, Newark, N.J.-based International Fidelity, refused to surrender the money to the county.

"It's been our view that there's been no effort from the Office of Law to recoup that money," said John Burke of Property Management Resources, the management company that runs the homeowner's association for the 70 town houses.

A woman who said she was the claims manager at International Fidelity's headquarters said it was not the company's practice to comment on such cases. She refused to give her name.

F. Todd Taylor Jr., senior assistant county solicitor, said he met with International Fidelity representatives and Steffey in the last two weeks and worked out a tentative agreement. He said Steffey was under pressure to settle because he had lost his federal court case against International Fidelity.

McNamara said the bonding company had obtained an injunction requiring Steffey to post an escrow fund of about $130,000 to cover repairs in Pilgrim's Ridge.

"My client fully intended to fix the problem," she said. Steffey had been in lengthy negotiations with the county over what repairs were required, and had ordered engineering studies done to clear up the matter.

By the time the studies were completed, however, Steffey was unable to pay for the repairs, McNamara said.

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