One of the largest houses in Franklin County sits unfinished, deteriorating as the owner and builder duke it out in court.

More than a year after construction stopped on the 21,276-square-foot brick colonial in Worthington, neighbors and passers-by wonder: Just what went wrong at 410 Tucker Drive?

The house is fully framed and encased in brick. But tar paper hangs off the roof, bare wood studs prop up an entry portico, mounds of dirt lie where mature trees once stood and stacks of weed-filled wood trusses clutter the rear yard, competing with construction pallets and piles of brick.

"It's certainly the talk of the town," said Kyle Widder, whose backyard offers a view of the front of the house.

The talk began in June 2015, after Aaron and Susan Bakhshi paid $547,500 for a 2,700-square-foot ranch on a 1.7-acre lot in Medick Estates, which, with its lush showcase of mid-century homes on large wooded lots, is considered Worthington's premier neighborhood.

According to court documents, Aaron Bakhshi, president of Burke Products in Xenia, approached Rodney Arcaro, a partner in the Granville homebuilding firm Arcaro & LaRussa Co., about renovating the property, but Arcaro instead recommended tearing it down and rebuilding.

The Bakhshis, who live in nearby Riverlea, did tear down the home, along with the mature sycamore, beech, walnut and oak trees that shaded the lot.

Neighbors, angered by the clear-cutting, turned out in force when the Bakhshis sought approval in the fall of 2015 to build a 3,868-square-foot outbuilding (more than four times larger than city code allows) for a garage and pool house.

The city denied the request following a contentious meeting that included a suggestion from the Bakhshis' attorney, Steven Justice, that neighbors objected to the house because of Aaron Bakhshi's Indian heritage.

The couple proceeded with the project, submitting a plan to the city for a three-story house, including a lower-level walkout. At 21,276 square feet (including the lower level), the house would be the third-largest in Franklin County, behind Leslie and Abigail Wexner's New Albany home and a mansion on Dublin Road, according to the Franklin County Auditor's Office. (The auditor lists the Bakhshis' home at 12,783 square feet, but does not include the lower level, even though it is designed to be finished and a walkout.)

Plans called for the house to contain six bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. The lower level alone included a living room, family room, home theater, play room, "rough" play room, locker room, workout room and toy-storage room.

The Bakhshis entered into an agreement for Arcaro & LaRussa to build the house -- that much is clear. But the exact nature of the agreement remains in dispute.

According to filings in lawsuits between Aaron Bakhshi and Arcaro & LaRussa, Bakhshi said there was no written contract, only an oral agreement, for the contractor to build the home for no more than $750,000.

"At no time ... did plaintiff enter into a written agreement with the defendant," Bakhshi's suit states.

In its filings, Arcaro & LaRussa states that there was, in fact, a contract to build the home for $4 million.

Neither the Bakhshis nor Arcaro & LaRussa would speak with The Columbus Dispatch for this article, but attorneys for both parties did.

Kate Ferguson, who represents the builder, dismisses Aaron Bakhshi's claim that he pursued the project without a written contract.

"He understood what he was doing," Ferguson said. "We're not talking about a first-time homebuyer. He's a sophisticated businessman. There's a written contract signed by both parties."

Justice, the Bakhshis' attorney, answered all questions by referring to court documents, which do not address why Bakhshi launched such an ambitious project without a contract or how a 21,276-square-foot house could be built for $750,000.

Bakhshi claims that the contract that appears in court documents was not produced until the spring of 2017 but back-dated to May 30, 2015, by Arcaro & LaRussa to make it seem older.

Contract or no contract, Arcaro & LaRussa began working on the house in the spring of 2016, after the site had been cleared.

According to Bakhshi's filings, the cost of the house quickly escalated beyond $750,000. By the end of 2016, after the home had been framed, the contractor said the home would cost $1.5 million. Bakhshi said he continued to pay but asked for an itemized breakdown of expenses, which his suit claims the builder didn't provide.

The costs, meanwhile, continued to climb.

By the spring of 2017, Bakhshi said, he had paid $1.5 million on the house, but Arcaro & LaRussa said the home would cost closer to $2.5 million, according to Bakhshi's suit. When the builder said it needed $500,000 more to continue work, Bakhshi said he couldn't pay more. Construction then abruptly stopped in spring 2017.

In court documents, Bakhshi said he had spent $2,309,262 on the project when work stopped.

Arcaro & LaRusso, however, claimed Bakhshi had paid the builder only $898,595 and still owed $1,226,404.

In mid-2017, when it became clear that the project was in trouble, four contractors filed liens on the property, claiming more than $300,000 in unpaid bills.

The two smallest have been settled, leaving two outstanding debts: $101,796 from Carter Lumber and $157,656 from the Gunton Corp. for the Pella windows installed in the house.

Despite the problems, Arcaro & LaRussa successfully requested in September that the building permit on the house be extended a year.

Two months later, the Bakhshis doubled a line of credit with Wright-Patt Credit Union – to $2.9 million (in addition to the $417,000 they'd borrowed when they purchased the property) – suggesting that work might resume on the home. But no meaningful work has been done since the extension of the building permit, and, in January, the builder and owner began arbitration to settle the dispute.

While pursuing arbitration, Bakhshi in March sued Arcaro & LaRusso, prompting a flood of court filings from both parties that has yet to be resolved.

While the attorneys do battle, neighbors privately say that they have their own fight cleaning up beer cans and other debris from the site, which regularly attracts curiosity-seekers.

"It just became an absolute eyesore, and it is still an eyesore," neighbor Linda Pees said. "We didn't have high hopes for it anyway. But it's worse than that. People walk down the street and comment on it; people come to look at it. They can't believe someone would choose to build a home like that and just walk away from it."

Neighbors wonder whether the house, which has never had a roof beyond the tar paper, can even be salvaged at this point.

"We just think it's sad," said Mary Dillhoff, who, with her husband, Chris, moved next door a year before the Bakhshis bought the property. "One house went into a landfill, and it's hard to imagine anyone else wanting this house after standing for two years without a roof."

City officials said they would review the status of the property when the building permit expires Sept. 7.

"Once the permit expires, we can start looking at any property-maintenance code issues," said Lee Brown, Worthington's planning and building director.

But, Brown said, the city's first wish is to see the project finished.

"For all of us, we want the house complete, the landscaping done and someone living there," he said.

Justice, the Bakhshis' attorney, agreed: "I don't think anyone begins to build a house and gets to this point without the hope of finishing the house."

jweiker@dispatch.com

@JimWeiker