by Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Every day I see more evidence that creation of homeowners associations (HOA) — with duties to maintain private roads and storm sewers — benefits developers, not homeowners.
Real estate developers and home builders don’t want buyers to know the truth. Local governments have a bad habit of relaxing zoning codes to allow for cheaper construction costs and higher density.
In industry lingo, density refers to the number of residential dwellings that can be built per acre of land. The higher the density, the more homes a developer can squeeze into a new community. More homes to sell equates to higher revenue for developers and home builders.
So, when a developer agrees to set up an HOA to take care of future maintenance, the local government will often permit narrower roads with smaller setbacks. The developer is rewarded with an approved plan that includes smaller setbacks and higher density. Then home builders sell buyers on the supposed prestige and exclusivity of private roads.
It’s important to recognize that higher density also creates more taxable property for your local government. But, at the same time, additional homes increase the population of your town and county. That means more people will need access to utility services, schools, nearby highways, and public transportation.
Homeowners are double taxed
How do local governments balance their desire for “growth” and higher tax revenue with the cost of additional public services?
For the past 3 of 4 decades, the vast majority of municipal and county governments have required developers to shift responsibility for new community roads, storm sewers, and retention or detention ponds to private homeowners by way of mandatory membership HOAs.
This decades-old but shortsighted policy allows the government to collect property taxes from new homeowners, without having to increase their budget to cover the cost of maintaining roads and storm water infrastructure in private communities.
So, if you pay HOA assessments, to some extent, you are double taxed. Your property tax dollars help pay for maintenance of public roads and storm water management on Main Street and other HOA-free neighborhoods.
But the city or county won’t lift a finger to fix potholes or remove snow and debris from your community’s private roads. Nor will they clean out HOA-owned storm drains or dredge retention ponds.
Long-term problems with shifting costs to HOAs
Usually, after the developer moves on, homeowners find out they don’t want to be saddled with difficult and expensive road and storm sewer maintenance.
That’s the case for Mallard Lane Homeowners Association. Homeowners pay $160 per month in HOA assessments, a huge chunk of which covers the cost of maintaining its private street and its storm sewers.
Fed up with the high costs and difficulty of finding reasonable and reliable contractors, homeowners are asking Peters Township to take ownership of Mallard Lane, so they will no longer have to stress over snow removal, pothole repairs, and storm sewer maintenance.
Fortunately, homeowners seem to have found an advocate in Township Manager Paul Lauer. Not only does he acknowledge that homeowners are double taxed by the Township and their HOA. Lauer also proposes amending the local ordinance, by requiring a developer to build private roads with the same setbacks required of public roads.
That way, there would be no incentive for builders to create private roads in the first place. That reduces the burden on future homeowners, and avoids a future headache for the Township when homeowners later demand equal service for their tax dollars.
FINALLY – a local government that “gets it!”
Residents ask Peters Township to take over street and its maintenance
Harry Funk, The Almanac
Jan 29, 2019 Updated Feb 11, 2019
A request by residents who live along a private street for it to be accepted into the local road system prompted a Peters Township Council discussion about why such streets exist in the first place.
The Brookview Villas Homeowners Association made the request for Mallard Lane, which is accessed at both ends from Valley Brook Road. Council members voted during their Jan. 28 to table the matter, the likes of which has arisen in the past.
“For the most part, private streets have been created for the purpose to allow them to develop without being subject to our setbacks,” township manager Paul Lauer explained. “In all of these cases, what eventually happens is winter maintenance is such that people have a preference that we do this.”
Lauer also has recommended a zoning amendment:
“What we’re now going to do is to change the ordinance and say, you need to take this cartway and put it in a private right of way that is equivalent to what would be required by the underlying zoning. So there’s no advantage given to people who want to develop on private streets.”
By Pennsylvania statute, “cartway” refers to the portion of a street that is improved by surfacing with permanent or semi-permanent material and is intended for vehicular traffic.
“The problem you have is that it’s always the people who buy there whom you feel some sympathy for, Frank Kosir Jr., council chairman, said. “You never realize until you move in how much of those common-area expenses are eaten up by the street, itself.”
Peters council delays action on private road conversion request