A Baltimore County panel has upheld a $277,200 fine on the owner of the now-abandoned Riverdale apartment complex in Essex -- the largest civil fine imposed by the county in recent history, officials said.
County officials aren't expecting a check in the mail from Florida real estate mogul Richard Schlesinger's company, which still owes more than $600,000 in utility bills, a debt that prompted a monthlong evacuation of more than 400 residents in June.
But they say they are more interested in getting possession of the property and redeveloping the 35 acres in the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Eastern Ave.
"It's another lien against the property. Our big thing now is we don't want him to end up with control of the property," said Michael H. Davis, spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
Decision public yesterday
The decision released yesterday by the Board of Appeals upholds a portion of the $1.5 million in fines that a county hearing officer imposed in April for building code violations.
Riverdale Village Apartments is a rundown, boarded-up World War II-era complex of more than 40 separate, two-story brick buildings, each containing six apartments.
Half the complex is owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which foreclosed last year. The agency plans to demolish the buildings and turn the land over to the county for $1. Schlesinger's company owns the other half, where the evacuation took place.
Schlesinger is a flamboyant New York native with a long history of court suits over his real estate dealings. He has faced millions in court judgments to large banks and creditors that have lent him millions over the years.
He also is under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in XTC Baltimore to see whether cash profits were taken from Riverdale while the federally insured mortgage went unpaid for years.
The Florida company that paid Riverdale's overdue property tax bill at last spring's county tax sale has not moved to foreclose on that half of the property. Stephen L. Harker, affiliate manager for Capital Asset Research Corp. of West Palm Beach, said the company is "still looking at the property." Under county law, it has two years to foreclose.
And HUD still hasn't contracted for demolition of the 25 Riverdale buildings it owns.
Schlesinger's Bethesda attorney, Ronald G. Kane, said during the board's hearings in July that the fines are academic because the Riverdale company has no assets other than the buildings and the land they sit on. Demolition will cost millions.
Yesterday, Kevin Kane, another lawyer for Schlesinger, refused to comment on the appeals board decision or whether it will be challenged in circuit court. A call to Schlesinger's Florida office was not returned.
The county had voluntarily reduced the amount of the fines to $500,000 in September, acknowledging that formal legal notice of the violations on which the fines were based came after many of the inspections were done.
The board cut another large chunk of the fines because the county never reinspected to see if claimed repairs were made and because some of the allegations of violations were too vague.
But the large reductions in the fines don't bother Arnold Jablon, director of permits and development management.
"We threw everything we had at him, including the kitchen sink," Jablon said. "I would not be upset if the board reduced the fine to one dollar. I'm not interested in the money. I want to get compliance."
Pub Date: 12/11/97