Local firm's woes mount Builder Westbrook has pulled out of most of its developments

Area's 13th biggest in '97

At least 6 creditors have named company in court filings

Real estate

June 05, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Joan Jacobson, Caitlin Francke and Lisa Respers contributed to this article.

A Baltimore County development company that was among the 20 largest builders in the metropolitan area last year has apparently ceased operation at seven of eight communities and is facing liens and judgments totaling more than $250,000.

Westbrook Development Inc., owned by James and Terry Rubenstein, has been named by at least six creditors in court filings in Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties for unpaid work ranging from engineering to construction framing to landscaping. And according to developers, many of the lots that Westbrook owned in various developments have been taken over by other builders.

Fifteen months ago, the Rubensteins were involved in part of a $4.2 million out-of-court settlement with the owners of the Club at McDonogh Township, an Owings Mills condominium community. Their defunct company -- Bancroft Homes of Greenspring Valley -- and the project's warranty company shared in the settling of the suit.

Last year, according to Meyers Housing Data Reports, a Washington research firm that tracks new home sales, Westbrook was the area's 13th largest builder, active in eight single-family and townhouse communities in Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Frederick counties.

Last week KCI Technologies Inc. was awarded a $41,838 judgment in Baltimore County Circuit Court for unpaid engineering and surveying work it did for Westbrook in its Frederick communities, said Alan Bloom, attorney for KCI Technologies.

"I don't know exactly what at this point he [Rubenstein] intends to do," said Bloom, who also has filed mechanic's liens against Westbrook in Frederick County. "Our judgment is fairly new, so we haven't had the opportunity to explore the actual payment of the judgment."

Mechanic's liens filed against Westbrook by other creditors will be coming up for hearings in 30 days.

Westbrook, according to a former sales manager, sought out its home buyers, made them aware of its financial plight, and offered to dissolve contracts and return deposits. Developers of several Westbrook communities said they have had few complaints from residents.

James Rubenstein declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that his company would complete seven homes at the Villages of Winterset at Owings Mills New Town and Harford Town but is ceasing active selling or building in those communities.

"For the remaining 13 townhomes in the Reserve in Abingdon and the remaining 39 townhomes at Snowden Ridge in Columbia, we are coordinating sales and construction on behalf of a new ownership group that is completing the project," he said in the statement.

Rubenstein also said the company has relocated from Towson to offices on Pot Spring Road in Timonium and that "service work and warranty policies at all Westbrook communities are being honored and completed by our service department, as planned."

The statement did not elaborate on the identity of the new ownership group, the status of three Westbrook communities in Frederick County or its financial situation.

Jeffrey H. Scherr, Rubenstein's attorney, also declined to return phone calls.

Bloom said he attended a meeting several weeks ago when James Rubenstein attempted to negotiate a plan to satisfy creditors. According to Bloom, Rubenstein encouraged his subcontractors to continue working, saying they would get paid in full for work being done but would be paid a percentage on the dollar for previous debts.

"He essentially said he was under-capitalized," Bloom said. "There was nothing concrete that we could be 100 percent assured of, so we filed suit."

D & R Construction Inc. was the main framing contractor for Westbrook, and its attorney, William Hahn, said its liens amount to more than $90,000.

"They were doing a lot of things all over and all of a sudden things just stopped," Hahn said.

Signs of a downturn for Westbrook first appeared in March when the company began to pull out of developments in the Villages of Winterset and in two Harford County communities, Harford Town and the Reserve at Abingdon in Constant Friendship.

T. Kevin Carney, developer of Winterset, released Rubenstein from 26 of 30 lots that Rubenstein had bought. Hidden Stream Development LLC, the developer of Harford Town, put Westbrook in default when Rubenstein failed to purchase the required number of lots in the first quarter of 1998. And at The Reserve, Westbrook's best-selling townhouse community, Martin Mortgage and Brokerage, a private lender in Pikesville, took over the final five-unit building from Westbrook.

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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