Lawsuits block Ryan from work on housing project

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The temporary office is closed and construction equipment sits abandoned around the perimeter of the Collier Gardens, the first of five proposed Villages of Neville Park housing sites slated for the former Woodville State Hospital property in Collier.

Plans call for the villages to be comprised of more than 600 homes, including townhouses, single-family dwellings and estate homes, all built by NVR Inc./Ryan Homes.

Despite initial brisk sales this spring and summer, the first phase of the project is at a standstill because of litigation involving Woodville Associates, Woodville Associates Limited Partnership, Collier Development Co., Independent Enterprises, Inc.and Independent Equipment Transfer, Inc., all owned in part by developers and brothers Jack and Jim Cargnoni.

The Cargnonis own the former hospital property and their companies are involved in its land development and infrastructure.

Because of the ongoing litigation, Jack Cargnoni said he could not comment. However, he did express optimism that the situation would be resolved and that construction of the Villages of Neville Park would resume.

Court records show a flurry of legal actions filed by the Cargnoni companies against one another earlier this year. Charges include in part unpaid bills, mechanics' liens, overbilling, fraud and mismanagement. Some actions were partially resolved in late April, which allowed for the release of some lots to NVR, Inc. of Reston, Va., the parent company of Ryan Homes.

But not enough.

Approximately 30 townhouses, with prices starting at about $240,000, have been built at Collier Gardens. Four additional lots are marked with "sold" signs, but there is no evidence of construction. Two occupied townhouses are for sale.

According to Bob Caun, Collier's building inspector and code enforcement officer, NVR/Ryan would like to construct additional units but cannot do so because no more land is being released due to the internal conflict among the Cargnoni companies.

And NVR/Ryan filed notice of intent Aug. 10 to sue Woodville Associates. Several calls to the Pittsburgh attorney handling the matter were not returned, and NVR attorney Drew Grigg at the company's corporate offices said, "We have no comment."

Meanwhile, Collier administrators are fielding calls of concern about the development. Among the reported fears are rumors of landslides and asbestos problems, both of which Mr. Cargnoni said are not true.

Collier Manager Jeanne Creese said that the reason behind the construction stoppage lies in the courts, not on the property.

"It's a monetary or litigation issue, not a safety issue," Ms. Creese said, though she also noted that there was "a minor problem" identified by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Uncertainty about the future has left the new Collier Gardens residents with a feeling of unease.

"Everyone's concerned," said one woman who did not want to be identified. She added that NVR/Ryan has tried to keep residents informed about what is going on.

In a separate case, Collier Development Co. filed suit against Goldenberg Development Co. with Praxis Resources LLC as intervenor in Aug. 2005. The three companies had been working together to develop the Trader Jack's property on Steen Road, another Cargnoni venture, into a retail area. A pre-trial conference is set for Tuesday and the trial is to start Nov. 6.

Carole Gilbert Brown is a freelance writer.


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