By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
A large-scale Virginia homeowners’ association is asking its County to take a 14-acre stormwater retention pond off its hands.
Kingstowne Residential Owners Corporation, or KROC, is a planned development of more than 5,300 homes. It shares maintenance costs of Kingstowne Lake with the Kingstowne Commercial Owners Corporation (KCOC).
KROC sent a petition to Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay in July, asking the County to take over maintenance of Kingstowne Lake. Karlee Copeland, Fairfax County’s stormwater management chief, says the transfer process — if approved — won’t be easy, and could take several years.
Several years ago, following a request made in 2005, Fairfax County agreed to take over 4 of Kingstowne’s dry detention basins. Historically, the County’s policy has been to avoid taking on private wet stormwater ponds for public maintenance.
Dry stormwater basins hold water temporarily, whereas wet ponds are permanent man-made bodies of water. Compared to dry stormwater ponds, wet retention ponds require more maintenance and pose additional public safety risks.
Despite these challenges, KROC thinks they can work with the County on a transfer agreement, because, in 2017, Fairfax officials developed a new plan for transferring stormwater facilities.
The terms of the plan require a private owner — in this case KCA — to make necessary repairs to the pond before the County will agree to transfer land ownership and add the facility to its maintenance roster.
Why does KROC want Fairfax County to take over Kingstowne Lake?
In a nutshell, the HOA doesn’t want to be stuck with ongoing costs and liabilities.
According to the September 2019 issue of Kingstonian, the official newsletter of KROC, Kingstowne “Lake” is not a recreational facility, but a stormwater pond.
In the early days of its development, planners envisioned Kingstowne Lake as a place where residents could enjoy swimming, boating, and fishing. However, not long after the lake was constructed, experts warned that, due to the presence of contaminants in the water, the “lake” would be unsafe for recreational uses.
Here’s an excerpt of the September 2019 issue of the Kingstonian newsletter:
KROC’s newsletter goes on to explain that Halle Companies, the developer, owned the Kingstowne “Lake” until 2010. Then Halle transferred the “lake” to KCA — an umbrella association.
Now KCA owns the stormwater facility, with all its problems.
Stormwater retention pond liabilities
As explained previously here on IAC, stormwater retention ponds come with BIG liabilities as well as the potential for unpleasant living conditions for nearby residents.
HOA liabilities include, for example, substantial costs to keep the water free from trash and debris.
Besides trash removal, stormwater ponds also require periodic dredging, an expensive process that involves using heavy equipment to scrape excess silt and debris from the bottom of the pond.
Kingstowne Community Association is also obligated to maintain the dam which prevents downstream flooding, and to prevent the flow of contaminated water into the Chesapeake Bay.
KROC, the residential HOA, also needs to carry expensive insurance policies related to the “lake.” For example, the HOA needs to be insured in case someone drowns after falling into the water.
But it gets even more complicated.
KCA consists of the Kingstowne Residential Owners Corporation (KROC) and the Kingstowne Commercial Owners Corporation (KCOC). Both KROC and KCOC must agree, by vote, on any plans to maintain or repair the Lake and the land that surrounds it.
As explained in the Kingstonian, although maintenance costs are supposed to be shared 50/50 with KCOC, commercial members are not interested in spending a lot of money to maintain the stormwater facility,
The implications: if KROC desires a higher level of maintenance, homeowners will have to pay for it.
Public nuisances, crime
After a recent stabbing near the lake, concerned homeowners are urging KROC to maintain lighting on a walking path around the stormwater pond.
Several lights are no longer working, and the local electric supplier, Dominion Energy, informed KROC it will cost $45,000 to restore lighting.
That’s a cost the HOA board is not willing to absorb.
KROC says it prefers to discourage people from walking around or near the stormwater pond, because of the numerous safety risks. Besides, KROC reminds homeowners that none of Kingstowne’s walking trails are lit at night.
Nevertheless, according to the Fairfax County Times, the public uses Kingstowne Lake area as if it were a park.
Pedestrians regularly use the path along the pond as a shortcut to the commercial shopping and dining areas of Kingstowne. Nearby residents walk their dogs along the path, and some of them don’t clean up after their pets.
Unlucky condo residents
Residents of Chancery condominiums live next to Kingstowne Lake. Understandably, they’re very unhappy about the constant accumulation of trash and pet waste in and around pond.
Plus, they’re uneasy about the recent stabbing incident on the unlit path near their homes.
But commercial members of KCOC don’t care what happens to the stormwater pond.
And, unfortunately, the thousands of KROC homeowners who don’t have to live next to Kingstowne Lake don’t really care about public nuisances and safety threats either.
In fact, KROC’s board insists that, because Kingstowne Lake is a stormwater pond, it is designed to collect trash and debris, to prevent it from entering the Chesapeake Bay.
So the HOA takes the stance that they cannot keep the area clean, and, that it shouldn’t be their problem.
What can concerned owners do?
I have a hunch that Chancery homeowners were sold on attractive “water views” of the “lake” from their condos. And now they’re bitterly disappointed.
Who can blame them?
I’m afraid that, no matter how often Chancery residents complain to KCA, KROC, or HOA management, they’re unlikely to be satisfied with maintenance of Kingstowne Lake.
If and when Fairfax County takes over, can residents expect improvement?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The County might collect trash from the pond even less often than KCA does.
On a more positive note, Fairfax County employs stormwater engineers with expertise necessary to devise solutions to the problems at Kingstowne Lake.
It’s probably wise for the condo association to explore ways to work with Fairfax County to block their view of Kingstowne Lake — perhaps installing a security barrier softened by some evergreen hedges.
Uncertain future for HOA stormwater ponds
Most homeowners don’t think about stormwater facilities in their community until they begin to cause problems such as flooding, foul odors, erosion, algae blooms, sink holes, or mosquito infestations.
By that time, due to years of deferred maintenance, a wet retention pond requires expensive remediation and repairs.
When poor maintenance results in flooding of nearby property or downstream environmental contamination, homeowner members of HOA-governed communities risk paying thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for uninsured damages, including government fines.
In my opinion, KROC is definitely wise to convince Fairfax County to assume responsibility for critical stormwater infrastructure. Dumping responsibility for stormwater drainage systems, ponds, and dams onto volunteer homeowner boards is both unfair and foolhardy.
But there’s no escaping the reality. Kingstowne homeowners and taxpayers may be stuck paying a fortune to resolve their stormwater problems.
The sad thing is that these costs could have been avoided if Fairfax County had simply maintained Kingstowne Lake from the time it was built in the 1980s. ♦
Fairfax County considers taking responsibility of Kingstowne Lake
By Angela Woolsey/Fairfax County Times
Aug 23, 2019