Planned site for aged deaf is auctioned

Developer, onetime partner in project, bids $4.6 million

Owner was bankrupt

32 condos were to be focus of proposed Wyndholme Village

May 01, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

An ambitious project to build the nation's first privately funded community for the aging deaf in Southwest Baltimore may have ended yesterday when the 24-acre site was sold at auction.

Wyndholme Village developer James M. Lancelotta, who had declared bankruptcy, said after the auction that more than two dozen people who wanted to live in the proposed community had made $10,000 deposits.

A company run by Stuart C. "Neil" Fisher was the successful bidder, offering $4.6 million, according to Alex Cooper Auctioneers Inc. Fisher did not return phone calls yesterday. Lancelotta said Fisher - his onetime partner in Wyndholme Village - told him he won't continue with plans to build the community for the deaf.

Fisher is a Florida-based developer who once promised Baltimore a waterfront Ritz-Carlton hotel but is no longer involved in the Key Highway project, according to hotel officials.

Lancelotta said he was surprised yesterday when Fisher bought the property in the 5200 block of Frederick Ave.

"We were supposed to be partners, and now Fisher bought me out," said Lancelotta, a Howard County developer. "He says he has no intention of making it for the deaf now. I don't believe this has happened."

The housing project, expected to cost more than $200 million, was to include 32 courtyard-surrounded condominiums, bicycle paths, dining rooms, a bank and a grocery store.

The project was announced in 1996, and some of the units were scheduled to be ready in 1998, with completion in 2003.

One prospective resident sold his house in Huntington Beach, Calif., a year ago and moved into a rental apartment while waiting for his Wyndholme Village condo, Lancelotta said. Barbara A. Willigan, executive vice president of Wyndholme Village, said buyers' deposits are in an escrow account and will be returned if the project doesn't materialize.

But Willigan, who is deaf, said she still has hope the project will be built as a gated haven for deaf people older than 50.

"This is heartbreaking for me," Willigan said through an interpreter. "I hope Neil [Fisher] will be kind enough to continue our dream. I am saddened most lenders and bankers don't believe there is a market in the deaf community. They are ignorant in thinking deaf people don't work and have money."

The Wyndholme site is less than an hour's drive from Gallaudet University, the school for the deaf in Washington, and only a few miles from the Woodlawn offices of the Social Security Administration, a leading employer of the hearing-impaired.

Money troubles

Lancelotta ran into money troubles in 1998 when he lost $7.1 million in funding after a Denver-based company suffered an internal embezzlement scandal and withdrew its loan. To forestall creditors who wanted to liquidate, Lancelotta accepted $2 million from Fisher to keep the project afloat.

Fisher then offered a $7 million construction loan as a partner, but didn't come through with it, Lancelotta said, and construction never began.

Alex Cooper auctioned the property for Arbutus-based Leeds Federal Savings Bank, which held a mortgage on the property. The bidding started at $1.5 million and increased in increments of $100,000, according to Joseph Cooper, Alex Cooper president.

The property is the childhood home of Lancelotta, whose maternal grandparents were deaf. His family bought the property in 1943 for $20,000.

Declined offer

Lancelotta said Fisher asked him yesterday to be a partner in a new project at the site, but Lancelotta declined.

A year and a half ago, when the two were in business together, Lancelotta said of Fisher in an article in The Sun: "Neil has been our white knight. It's great to have someone here who is way smarter than me."

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