Politically-connected developer Kevin Johnson hasn’t made any visible progress on completing his $75 million apartment complex on the Hendler Creamery property in Jonestown, but he has settled a legal dispute with one of his contractors on the project.
Berg Corporation, a demolition firm that was suing one of Johnson’s companies for money it claims it was owed, has asked the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to dismiss the suit, according to Judge Michael DiPietro, who was scheduled to preside over a hearing related to the case yesterday.
“I got a call that they had resolved the matter,” DiPietro told The Brew in the courthouse.
DiPietro said he didn’t have any information about how much money Johnson’s company paid Berg to settle the case, if any.
He said a representative for the law firm representing Berg notified him that it filed a “stipulation of dismissal” earlier this month, but the paperwork had not yet reached his chambers.
DiPietro said he canceled the hearing and told Berg’s attorney not to appear.
Finger in Many Pies
A representative for Berg’s law firm, Huddles, Jones, Sorteberg & Dachille, said the stipulation of dismissal was filed on July 10. The woman, who identified herself as Sue, referred other questions to Berg’s attorney, Kenneth Knut Sorteberg. He did not respond to a request for additional information.
Berg tore down the Volunteers of America building and completed other work to prepare the site at 1100 E. Baltimore Street for construction of a 296-unit apartment building, incorporating part of the shell of the historic Hendler Creamery.
The lead developer of the project is Kevin Johnson, who heads a group called Hendler Creamery Development LLC.
Johnson is also the head of the Commercial Group, a Hanover-based company that works as both a development and contractor and has had close ties with top City Hall officials.
Commercial Construction is also involved – with KCI Technologies – in a $50 million conduit rebuilding project approved last December by both Pugh and current Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, despite the project being cited as out of compliance by the city Department of Transportation.
More recently, Young piloted through the Board of Estimates a $1.5 million no-interest construction loan for a mixed-income housing project (the 1234 McElderry Building) slated to be built by Commercial Construction.
After the demolition ended in Jonestown, Commercial did not move ahead with construction of the Hendler project. The site has been dormant for over eight months. The apartments were originally supposed to open this summer.
Johnson did not respond to a request for more information about the lawsuit or the status of the project. His attorney, Ramsay M. Withworth of Silverman Thompson Slutkin & White, did not respond to a request for information.
This is the same law firm that represented Pugh before and when she resigned as mayor, following an FBI raid on her home in the wake of reports about the undisclosed sale of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books to the University of Maryland Medical System, financier J. P. Grant, Kaiser Permanente and others.
Dwight Warren, executive director of the McKim Center in Jonestown, today said that the community has not heard from Johnson or received information about the status of the Hendler project in months.
Lien Against Property
According to documents filed with the Circuit Court in May, Berg sought to establish a mechanic’s lien against Hendler Creamery Development’s property in the amount of $74,331.68, plus interest, attorney’s fees and costs, and any “further relief” the court may deem “just and proper.”
According to documents on file, Berg’s attorney said Hendler Creamery owed Berg $541,009.72 for work performed at the Hendler site in 2018, but it only paid $466,678.04.
The original contract amount, Berg said, was $745,000 plus change orders totaling $41,009.71, but some of those funds were to go to others.
That is the suit that Berg asked the court to dismiss.
Berg is one of two Maryland companies that have said Johnson’s company owed them money for work done on the Hendler site.
Richard Marietta, chief operating officer of Design Collective, the architecture firm behind the Hendler project, said last month that the developer has an “outstanding balance” with his firm, but “nothing that we’re worried about.”
He added that “there is no legal action at present and none forthcoming.”
Tractor Building Developer
Another entity headed by Johnson, Commercial Interiors, is a co-defendant in two lawsuits in the District of Columbia, in which the plaintiffs are seeking unpaid wages for work on the Grand Hyatt hotel there.
In January, Commercial Development was announced as the for-fee developer of the historic Tractor Building at Clipper Mill in Woodberry. The plan calls for creating 99 apartments inside the shell of the historic structure.
A representative for the property owner, Valstone Partners, pointed to Johnson’s work on the Hendler property as one of the reasons he was selected for the Tractor Building site.