A Montgomery County company was the high bidder yesterday at a court-ordered auction of three vacant rowhouses that sparked a long-running battle between a church-related development corporation on one side and the city and an East Baltimore community group on the other.
PDA LLC beat out a half-dozen other bidders with an offer of $325,000 for the three-story rowhouses in the 1400 block of E. Lombard St., just east of Corned Beef Row in the historic Washington Hill neighborhood.
After the auction, Parviz Vedadi, a representative of the two-year-old real estate company, said he did not know what the properties would be used for, but that the firm was attracted by their location not far from downtown and the waterfront.
"We have a plan to do something good for this neighborhood," he said.
Records show that the company has been involved in about a dozen commercial and residential sales in Montgomery, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, but that before yesterday it had not bought or sold any properties in the city.
Under the terms of the auction, the company had to put a $10,000 deposit on the properties and has 30 days to come up with the rest of the money.
The auction - conducted in front of the three houses by Harvey West Auctioneers of Towson - was ordered in late October by Baltimore Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy.
Gordy found Bishop Franklin C. Showell, the leader of First Apostolic Institutional Faith Church at East Lombard and South Caroline streets, and the church-related Apostolic Community Development Corp. guilty of civil contempt for not abiding by a February 2003 consent decree that required the properties to be fixed up or sold.
Declaring that the Lombard Street properties "remain an ongoing nuisance to the Washington Hill community," Gordy ordered Showell and the corporation to put the properties up for auction within 75 days or face a fine of $500 a day. The corporation has owned the properties since 1997.
Simon Hemby, president of Citizens for Washington Hill, which has clashed with the church repeatedly over the condition of the buildings and the desire of the community to get them renovated, said after yesterday's auction that he was "very happy" that the properties were sold.
"We wanted it out of [the development corporation's] hands," said Hemby, who attended the auction. "In their hands, nothing was going to happen. We're pleased that somebody else got it."
But a lawyer for Showell and the development corporation said the church, which has been on South Caroline Street since the late 1940s, has had a positive influence on the neighborhood and has been wrongly singled out by the city.
"The church came into this area when no one else wanted to be down here," said attorney James L. Rouse. "They've been treated unfairly by the city in the way they've been pressured into selling these properties."
The city housing attorney who brought suit against Showell and the development corporation 2 1/2 years ago in an effort to force them to renovate or sell the properties defended the city's action.
"The city has been more than fair and more than patient," said Evan L. Helfrich. "It has only been through litigation that there's been results.
"It's a very positive step and hopefully it'll go to settlement," he added of the auction.
The legal action against Showell and the development corporation is a prototype for the city's new emphasis on code enforcement in sections of the city that do not need a large amount of redevelopment but are in areas of stabilization and reinvestment, said Michael Braverman, head of the city's code enforcement legal section and Helfrich's boss.
The initiative is called Targeted Enforcement for Visible Outcomes, or TEVO, he said.
Among the other bidders on the properties were Earl's Place, which provides transitional housing for homeless men and sits next to the properties; John D. Hubble, a well-known local investor who served briefly as the city's acting real estate officer; and Harbor Investment Group LLC, which is active in buying and rehabilitating properties in the nearby Patterson Park and Highlandtown areas.
Sheila Helgerson, executive director of Earl's Place, said she wants to expand, but "we couldn't afford to go that high."
Michael D. Papesh, who is in charge of Harbor Investment Group, the second-highest bidder, said, "We would have liked to have had the properties. We weren't exactly sure what we were going to do with them."