Northumberland complex in Maple Ridge to bite the dust

New owner, however, saddled with lawsuit from previous one

Owner Ghalib Rawji still intends to  demolish the old Northumberland buildings.

Owner Ghalib Rawji still intends to demolish the old Northumberland buildings.

The crumbling, empty shells of a once-notorious townhouse complex in downtown Maple Ridge will bite the dust in a few weeks.

Vancouver developer Ghalib Rawji stressed Monday he has every intention to demolish Northumberland Court as council prepared to take action against the Fraser Street property.

Rawji bought the complex last year, after years of municipal and police frustration at controlling the drug haven.

He later bought the lot immediately to the west, with access to 224th Street, so he could build more apartments, as well as office space.

However, Rawji is currently saddled with a lawsuit launched by the previous majority owner of the townhouse complex, Jagdev ‘Jack’ Athwal.

Athwal filed the lawsuit in January, alleging Rawji’s company, Northumberland Fraser Street Holdings Inc., reneged on conditions agreed to when it lent Athwal more than $300,000 to clear title on the townhouse complex.

In a response to Athwal’s claim filed in New Westminster Supreme Court, Rawji states that it is Athwal who has defaulted on the mortgage, a promissory note and is in breach of the agreement.

He has asked the court to dismiss Athwal’s lawsuit.

“We’ve are still in the process of dealing with it,” said, Rawji who plans to tear down the complex, with its burnt and pillaged buildings, within a month.

“Our biggest issue has been dealing with the previous ownership and they’ve been an issue for everybody from the start.”

In a report to council Tuesday, district staff recommend council give Rawji 30 days to remove the buildings.

The request follows an inspection on July 12, when district staff found the buildings had been broken into and wiring was tampered with.

Fire chief Dane Spence said the buildings have been found “insecure” eight times since January and are an extreme hazard to firefighters, should a fire break out in any of them.

Since January 2004, the fire department has responded to at least 72 calls from Northumberland Court, 11 of them fire-related.

“Whatever security measures were in place were inadequate,” said Spence. “The buildings are in worse condition now than when he took them over. They have degraded to a point now where it’s time something is done.”

Despite the delay, council indicates the district is still willing to work with Rawji.

“The last thing we want to see is for him to remodel those units and then rent them out,” said Coun. Craig Speirs.

“That’s just a horror show for the neighbourhood. We’ve been very amendable and allowed him time. We are willing to work with the guy, but he’s got to, at some point, tear them down. We need some answers.”

Rawji intends to submit final drawings to the district for 29 townhouses and a 24-unit apartment building by the end of August.