When we moved into our house three years ago, we knew we were part of a homeowners association (HOA). Our house is considered a townhome, only because we don’t mow our lawns or shovel snow. This also means our HOA is responsible for our streets, which are considered private, as well as the streetlights and the common areas in the center and around the perimeter.
What we didn’t know is that our little HOA of 34 homes is also part of a larger association. It’s been very confusing because the names are quite similar. So when we get mailings, we have to pay very close attention to determine which HOA is contacting us.
Recent developments in our (larger) HOA
A few weeks ago, we received a mailing from the larger association about an upcoming meeting to discuss and vote on a proposal related to “ponds and landscaping”, that would result in an assessment to all members. That’s all it said. I don’t know if they thought that would pique the curiosity of people and get a large number to attend, or if they were afraid to share too much at that point.
I was planning to attend and the day of the meeting, we received an email from a member of our smaller HOA which provided us with more details. In fact, she sent a copy of the PowerPoint program that would be presented that evening. It was here we learned that we were voting on whether to assess each of us $925 to dredge three ponds and replace all the old landscaping mulch with river rock. We learned the landscaping hadn’t been maintained for two years. I could vouch for that; I walk the neighborhood and I see the shabby beds and the unruly bushes and trees. Not to mention the dead trees and shrubs.
Our larger association includes 349 homes, most of which are not close to either the ponds or the perimeter. I’m sure it’s difficult for them to appreciate the value of keeping the landscaping looking nice. It can, however, affect our property values as well as the overall appeal of living in our neighborhood. And we needed 210 of those homes in attendance to reach a quorum.
That pond is a retention pond
Do you have a pond close to your home? None of the three maintained by our larger association is close to us. In fact, two are several blocks away and almost hard to find. But they’re very close to a couple of recently built houses. Well, I learned something about these ponds.
If you live near one, were you sold on the value of living with a water view? Did you possibly even pay a premium for your lot? Did anyone ever tell you what those ponds are actually for?
That pond’s primary purpose is to collect stormwater runoff for environmental purposes or flood control. State and local laws require that virtually all new development must be designed to collect and control the stormwater runoff it will create. This is part of a federal mandate by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has given state and local governments the responsibility for enforcing it.
The stated goal of retention ponds is to reduce the downstream flow of polluted stormwater, preventing erosion and contamination of watershed areas or private property. Basically, all private property owners in newer association-governed communities are expected to maintain and manage their own stormwater infrastructure, with little or no guidance, assistance, or oversight from local government.
Since knowing the pond’s true purpose doesn’t necessarily attract homebuyers, homebuilders and real estate professionals began promoting these ponds as attractive water features. And they are, at least when they’re new.
The longer a retention pond or wetland exists, the more likely it is to create a nuisance which will eventually bring down property values. Most HOAs do not maintain them at the level they should. They require algae and plant removal. They require shoreline maintenance to prevent erosion. They require regular inspection to ensure they are working the way they were meant to work and not turn into a putrid cesspool.
As these realities have surfaced, some developers are now building these ponds away from homes. This keeps people from thinking they are for creating waterfront properties where they expect the water to be clear, blue and pristine.
Another reality of these ponds is the wildlife they attract. If you haven’t had to deal with that, you probably think “how cute, look at all those baby goslings”. Well, they grow up and continue to produce more and more geese, that just poop all over the sidewalks where you like to walk. They also become very territorial and especially when they’re nesting, will honk and even attack.
What’s our HOA doing?
I guess I have to give them a hand for being proactive. They recognize these ponds need work, specifically dredging, removing overgrown plants, and building up the shoreline. They tried to get several bids but only received one. I imagine this isn’t a job anyone loves to do. It will cost a little over $200,000 to get our ponds back in shape.
They say, once they are restored, they will eventually become self-maintained. Probably not completely, but one of our older ponds isn’t as bad as the two new ones, so I have to think there’s some truth to it. I’d like to think it won’t cost us this much in the future.
They’ve proposed a package deal to include the pond work as well as landscaping maintenance. All along the perimeter, there are bushes and trees with mulch beds. Well, there used to be mulch. Most of it is gone. And they admitted nothing has been done for over two years because they don’t have the money.
So they want to replace the mulch with rock, which would not need to be maintained each year like the mulch. They’re thinking long term. I like rock better anyway. It doesn’t blow away and it looks nice.
We’ve had two meetings so far, with the second one last night. I have no idea what happened. Since I attended the first one and voted, I didn’t have to go again. If they didn’t reach a quorum last night, there’s another meeting in two weeks. At that point, we should be OK because the number needed for a quorum is about equal to the number that attended the first meeting.
Most of our neighbors appear to be voting “no”. I voted “yes”. Why? Because what happens if we do nothing? The problems don’t go away. It might end up costing us more in the future if we don’t do it now.
Some think the developers should be responsible. I can’t argue with that, especially since two of the ponds are located in developments that aren’t even finished. But based on our experience with our developer, good luck with that!!
And it’s not the city’s problem, even though they can tell us our pond isn’t up to snuff. Then what happens if they take over? How much would that cost us?
So, let’s cough it up now, even though it’s not what any of us would prefer to do with that $925. I just don’t want to wait until it becomes $1,925!!!
Update: The HOA meeting on Monday night had a quorum and the proposal didn’t pass, 122 to 29. The board plans to draft a new proposal taking feedback from homeowners in mind. The city of West Des Moines will be inspecting the ponds later this year, so we’ll see how that comes out. Sounds like we’ll hear more towards the end of the year. I’m still convinced this will end up costing us more in the long run. I hope I’m wrong.