The bill would permit use of grant funds for stormwater and erosion management for private homeowners and HOAs.
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Back in July, I wrote a post about Virginia homeowner Doug Woods. His property is the site of the infamous Spotsylvania sinkhole.
The hole opened up near Woods’ driveway in February, after a metal storm water pipe collapsed.
Since then, Woods has watched the sinkhole swallow up more of his yard. Meanwhile, three layers of government deny responsibility for repairing the storm pipe and filling in the cavernous hole.
Virginia Department of Transportation says the collapsed pipe is on County Property, not within a VDOT road easement.
Kingswood Homeowners Association says Spotsylvania County has an easement to allow for maintenance and repair.
But the County says that, in the 1990s, the developer of Kingswood installed the storm water system. So replacing the pipe is now the responsibility of either the HOA or homeowner.
The developer apparently buried storm pipe under Woods’ property. Normally, in a situation like this, an easement is created so that the HOA or the local governing authority can maintain or replace drainage pipe when needed.
Perhaps, due to an error, an easement was never created on Woods’ property?
For some unknown reason, Kingswood HOA asked Woods to make a claim with his homeowner’s insurance provider. But when he found out the estimated cost to install a new pipe and fix the gaping hole – $78,000 – he was shocked.
That’s well beyond the reach of a single homeowner. Apparently, Wood’s insurance company is not willing to pay either.
Is this pipe private property or community property?
In the ABC7 video linked below, it certainly appears that the large stormwater pipe serves the entire community, not just a single lot owner.
We’re not looking at rain gutter drain pipes here.
If reporter Nathan Baca can stand inside the pipe, it’s designed to hold a high volume of water draining from dozens, if not hundreds of Kingswood homes, as well as County-owned roads.
It should be common sense. A single homeowner cannot be expected to accept liability for repairing a portion of a community’s drainage system. It simply isn’t fair.
New bill proposed
Since no one seems willing to pay for storm water infrastructure repairs, despite obvious threats to public health and safety, two state Legislators have filed a bill that would set up a grant fund for local stormwater management.
The 2019-session bill is entitled HB 1614 Local Stormwater Management Fund; grant moneys.
It’s a one-paragraph bill that gives a local government legal authority to grant money to a private party or an association-governed community.
§ 15.2-958.7. Local Stormwater Management Fund; grant moneys.
Any locality may provide by ordinance for the creation of a local Stormwater Management Fund (the Fund) for the purpose of granting funds to an owner of private property or a common interest community for stormwater management and erosion prevention. Grants from the Fund shall be used exclusively for construction, improvement, or repair of a stormwater management facility or for erosion and sediment control. The Fund shall exclusively comprise appropriated local moneys.
I assume the intent of HB 1614 is to get around Spotsylvania County’s current legal argument that public (taxpayer) money cannot be used to pay for expenses on private property.
Legal experts generally agree that HOAs are private organizations, despite the fact that they often provide “government-like” local services.
HOA budget for storm water management
It would seem that Kingswood HOA is supposed to provide stormwater management. So why isn’t the HOA doing anything about the collapsed storm pipe and the giant sinkhole?
According to ABC7 News, Kingswood HOA is managed by Anthony Lugo. A quick internet search reveals Lugo is employed by First Service Residential (FSR) D.C.
As you can see from the screenshot of a 2015 budget, prepared by management company FSR, Kingswood HOA allocated $11,745 for stormwater management that year.
The association also paid $1,800 for a Storm Water Management Best Management Practices (SWMBMP) inspection by Spotsylvania County in 2014.
FSR’s report also notes that the next County inspection was to occur in 2017.
Was the pipe in front of Woods’ home inspected by Spotsylvania County in 2014 and 2017?
Or didn’t the HOA know about this particular storm pipe?
Something doesn’t add up, because in February 2018, the metal storm pipe failed, causing the Spotsylvania sinkhole, and leaving the homeowner with reduced property values and unending stress and frustration.
If Kingswood HOA is not responsible for stormwater management within the community, then why did its 2014 and 2015 annual budgets include line items for those service?
Another question: since the association is collecting almost $240,000 per year from its members, is there enough money available in reserve to cover the $78,000 estimated cost to repair?
Given the small annual budget for stormwater management noted for 2014-2015, my hunch is that Kingswood HOA’s reserve fund cannot afford to take a hit of $78,000.
To raise that kind of money, the HOA would probably have to raise assessments or issue a special assessment.
That politically unpopular possibility could explain why the HOA keeps denying responsibility and delaying action.
Oh, the irony!
Getting back to HB 1614, let’s look at the complete irony of the situation.
In the 1990s, when Kingswood was created, Spotsylvania County approved a development plan and, most likely, required the establishment of an HOA to pay for construction and ongoing maintenance of common property.
Since the 1970s, common property typically includes stormwater management infrastructure for planned subdivisions such as Kingswood.
As is typical of most new development in the past 30 to 40 years, the County intentionally imposed the expense and liability for storm water drainage to Kingswood homeowners, to be funded by way of mandatory HOA membership assessments.
The County didn’t want to deal with it then, and they don’t want to deal with it now.
And Virginia state government leaders enabled cost-shifting and privatization of local stormwater management services, by way of state law governing common interest communities.
But the grand plan of creating more money for local governments, by collecting property taxes and mandating HOA fees didn’t work as expected.
Too many HOAs fail to properly maintain their stormwater infrastructure. And, as well-documented here on IAC, developers and future homeowners rarely raise assessments to cover the real future cost of repairs.
So now, when taxpaying homeowners and underfunded HOAs get caught in a financial bind, State Legislators scramble to shift costs — once again — to taxpayers at the County or Municipal level.
But instead of collecting and speding taxes to benefit all property owners in each municipality or County, HB 1614 proposes to distribute taxpayer-funded grants to private HOA communities or individual homeowners on a case-by-case basis.
If stormwater management had remained a public service for the past three or more decades, rather than privatizing service by neighborhood, Woods probably wouldn’t be stressing over the Spotsylvania sinkhole today.
7 On Your Side: Virginia homeowner stuck with sinkhole everybody refuses to fix
by Nathan Baca/ABC7 Thursday, August 16th 2018
HOMEOWNER STILL SEARCHING FOR HELP
Spotsylvania sinkhole keeps growing
By SCOTT SHENK THE FREE LANCE–STAR Oct 29, 2018
A depressing saga drags on for a Spotsylvania County family as a sinkhole continues to gobble up their front yard. Their driveway in its path, and a solution to the problem remains elusive.
“I’ve talked to everyone I can talk to,” Doug Woods said this week. “My sinkhole’s still there, except it’s getting bigger.”
He said the hole has grown to about 13 feet across and has taken aim at his driveway, which, he added, “is gonna need some work.”
Woods said the estimate to repair the pipe and hole is $78,000.
The sinkhole story has gained some notoriety, as it has been covered in The Free Lance–Star and television networks. The coverage has spurred a bill aimed at fixing what appears to be a loophole that has trapped the Woods, his wife and their teenage daughter.
The bill, HB 1614, is co-sponsored by Del. Mark Cole and Sen. Bryce Reeves. It aims to create a fund that would help property owners in just such a situation. It is awaiting a committee referral.