By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Recently I posted a blog entitled Flooding and Erosion common problems faced by HOA planned communities. The topic generated considerable interest and comments on several discussion forums.
One reader, an Urban Planning professional and consultant, challenged my assertion that sometimes municipal and county governments end up approving infrastructure that does not meet current codes acceptable to either the state or local government. I did provide at least a half dozen documented examples of exactly how these circumstances play out in the real world.
First of all, construction standards vary considerably from place to place, so there are no consistent standards. When standards are updated, projects already in the pipeline are often grandfathered in with the lower standards.
Also, smaller governments have only recently updated their storm water management plans to reflect more recent technological advances and research in the field. Some local governments fail to adequately fund the department that is tasked with permitting, inspection, and oversight of new construction. Therefore, they tend to lack engineering and construction management staff to assist with design and to oversee quality of construction. Instead, local agencies rely upon a certified statement from a land developer’s or home builder’s engineer that systems and homes are “substantially built as designed.”
The prevalence of construction defect claims and litigation in the U.S. is to be expected under these circumstances.
And, because most construction these days involves private communities, usually with a homeowners association created to fund ongoing maintenance, local planners sometimes let standards slide or fail to enforce modern building codes upon developers that decide to cut corners.
Today I have another example to prove my point, this one involving road construction rather than storm water management systems.
The plight of Amber Ridge residents
In the borough of Cressona, Pennsylvania, owners in a small townhouse community live on a road (Marsha Drive) that is not owned by the borough. The community does not have a homeowners association. The original developer, Keepsake Homes, is embroiled in bankruptcy. According to reports in the Republican Herald, vacant lots were sold to Grande Construction a few years ago, but the new builder claims that Keepsake Homes still owns Marsha Drive. Cressona officials say they have no record of Marsha Drive’s deed being transferred to the borough.
This means that the homeowners have been living without road maintenance. No snow removal. No pothole repairs. And they keep getting the run around from borough officials. Finally, borough council authorized its attorney to delve into the matter, to determine who owns Marsha Drive.
It’s a comedy of errors, but not at all funny for residents of Marsha Drive, who fear that emergency responders would be unable to navigate their narrow, curved road, especially if blocked by snow or parked cars.
But, as you can read in the articles linked below, there will be no easy path for transferring ownership – and liability – for their so-called private road to the borough of Cressona.
According to the borough’s attorney, Eric M. Prock, Cressona officials cannot access money deposited in escrow to address problems with Marsha Drive:
Money posted in the escrow accounts, however, are “tied up in bankruptcy,” Prock said. If a company is in bankruptcy, he said the borough cannot sue the company.
“We can’t go spend that money, because there are creditors,” he said.
“We’re following it. It’s not an easy fight,” [council President James] Johns added. He said Front and Schuylkill streets used to be state routes, but they were brought up to code and then the state turned those roads over to the borough. He said it would be up to the council to decide if the borough will eventually take over Marsha Drive. However, that would probably only happen if the current owner of the road brings it up to the appropriate criteria, as recommended by Moyer*, so that the road could receive liquid fuels funds.
Source: See Cressona Borough to investigate ownership of Marsha Drive, Republican Herald, cited below.
Steven W. Moyer, mentioned in the above quote, is an engineer planner hired by the borough, who works for Systems Design Engineering Inc., Leesport.
So, there you have it. If the road must be “brought up to code” before the state can approve it, and the borough can accept it, how were certificates of occupancy issued for residences on Marsha Drive in the first place?
Clearly, someone at the borough or perhaps the County level had to issue the permit for the (inferior) design. It is unclear who, if anyone, approved a construction certificate after the road was completed, or partially completed, as the case may be.
And, the end result, it appears, is that construction of a residential road (infrastructure) has been approved at standards that are lower than current building codes. Homes were built along this road and sold to owners without any explicit disclosure that Marsha Drive was still designated a private road that would not be maintained by the borough of Cressona.
What a huge inconvenience and potential financial hardship for property owners of Amber Ridge subdivision, particularly those who reside on Marsha Drive.
Cressona residents, borough debate road ownership
BY VICKI TERWILLIGER / PUBLISHED: MARCH 18, 2017
Sally Butcavage, Cressona, makes her way down Marsha Drive on Thursday in Cressona.
CRESSONA — Despite being surrounded by feet of snow, Marsha Drive resident Sally Butcavage feels like she and her Cressona neighbors are between a rock and a hard place.
At issue is who is responsible for the upkeep and winter maintenance of Marsha Drive in the Amber Ridge Development.
“Every time we call, we get told a different story,” Butcavage, who has resided at 43 Marsha Drive for nearly four years, said. “Multiple times, I’ve called the borough office and my neighbors have called to complain.”
Cressona Borough to investigate ownership of Marsha Drive
BY VICKI TERWILLIGER / PUBLISHED: MARCH 22, 2017
CRESSONA — More than 25 people packed into the Cressona Borough Council chambers Monday, seeking an elusive answer to the question: who owns Marsha Drive?
Is it Grande Construction Co., or Keepsake Homes Inc.? One thing the borough made clear was that it’s not owned by the borough.
Residents repeatedly shared details of how their lives have been affected because they live on the road in the Amber Ridge Development that the borough has said is a private drive. One man called it “Nightmare Ridge.”
Marsha Drive neighbors expressed concerns about their safety, the narrowness of the roadway, the high curbs, potholes, ill-fitted manhole covers and drainage problems. Most were worried about emergency crews being able to reach their homes due to the narrowness of the horseshoe-shaped street and the lack of any snow plowing by the borough.
Municipal LIQUID FUELS PROGRAM. The Municipal Liquid Fuels Program funds a range of projects to support construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public roads or streets. … The amount of a municipality’s allocation is based on its population and miles of roads on their approved Liquid Fuels Inventory.
Municipal Liquid Fuels Program – PennDOT
PennDOT (.gov) › LocalGovernment