24 blighted houses in Arundel auctioned

Run-down, boarded units were owned by Zuberi

February 13, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

An auctioneer sold most of the run-down, boarded-up townhouses belonging to Arwell Court's largest landlord yesterday, marking a major step toward cleaning up one of Anne Arundel County's most dangerous streets.

Businessman Mark Woods of Chantilly, Va., bought 24 of Mohammad Zuberi's 30 townhouses on the Pioneer City street known for drugs, blight and gunshots. He paid about $7,000 for each, a fraction of what they were listed for when Zuberi bought them over the past three decades.

The sale fell short of the $216,000 needed to pay off one of Zuberi's main creditors, Warfield Condominium Association No. 3, which governs Arwell Court. Warfield originally scheduled the auction five years ago, but Zuberi filed for bankruptcy protection a day before the sale, which stopped the auction.

"I think we have found a really good person who will come in and clean the community up," said Warfield attorney Kathleen M. Elmore.

Built as affordable housing, Arwell Court initially attracted investors and new residents. Landlords counted on soldiers at nearby Fort Meade and people with Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers as a solid tenant base. But drugs dealers soon infiltrated the community, and many owners who could afford to do so sold quickly. Zuberi bought many of the units - in addition to the 30 homes on Arwell Court, he owns about 30 others throughout Pioneer City - which have fallen into disrepair.

Woods could end up owning all 30 of Zuberi's Arwell Court units. Warfield bought three to start the bidding but intends to sell them, and Elmore said the banks are likely to foreclose on the remaining three, which Woods could buy in a bank foreclosure sale. Woods learned about the sale when he saw an ad in the newspaper for some of Zuberi's other properties in Pioneer City.

Most of Zuberi's Arwell Court units are boarded up and vacant, the result of a Health Department lawsuit that pointed to more than 1,000 violations.

Zuberi's attorneys declined to comment.

At yesterday's sale, auctioneer Robert H. Campbell II tried to keep the mood light, reminding the shivering crowd that Will Rogers once said: "`Buy land. They ain't making no more of it.'" But many that watched felt a twinge of sadness that the promise of Arwell Court as a middle-income community had ended this way.

"You see someone build an empire, and then it just dies," said Stanley Ruddie, who owns three properties on the street.

Ruddie remembers his first Fourth of July celebration at his Arwell Court townhouse 22 years ago. He went into the back yard, fired up the grill and was greeted with loud music from several boom boxes.

Zuberi has said over the years that finding good tenants has been difficult. By 1990, Fort Meade forbade its soldiers from renting on Arwell Court. Recently, the Anne Arundel County Housing Commission ruled the street's landlords could no longer accept Section 8 vouchers.

About two years ago, in hopes of stemming the blight, Warfield's directors asked the Health Department to survey all properties on the street and cite every owner with violations. Most corrected the problems. When Zuberi did not, the county took him to court. After months of legal wrangling, Zuberi agreed to board up his properties and sell them.

Health Department supervisor Clifford Ruehle, who attended numerous court proceedings concerning Zuberi's properties, said the county is interested in working with Woods.

"I feel sorry for Mr. Zuberi," Ruehle said. "But at the same time, I'm glad we're getting some resolution to this."

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