Wednesday, June 12, 2024

What happens when developments disagree over road repairs? Turns out, nothing

Damaged signs, an agreement one side says is not being followed, a potential lawsuit: and it all started over a pothole.

Located between two developments, the pothole on Ontario Road has steadily deteriorated over the last 16 months. Neither development has taken action to repair it. (Port City Daily photo | BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Located between two developments, the pothole on Ontario Road has steadily deteriorated over the last 16 months. Neither development has taken action to repair it. (Port City Daily photo | BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — What started a year and a half ago as a pothole in the Ocean Forest Lakes development is slowly carving the road in two. The pothole is now threatening to expose utility lines and is putting drivers at risk.

The pothole is right near the intersection of Ontario Road and Okechobee Road, where the Ocean Forest Lakes development meets the neighboring Woodlake development. Woodlake, a more recent development, is isolated from major nearby thoroughfares – Carolina Beach and River roads – and its residents drive through Ocean Forest Lakes or neighboring Lord’s Creek to exit their development.

Neither New Hanover County or the North Carolina Department of Transportation are responsible for the private roads — so the burden falls on the developments and Homeowners Associations (HOAs).

Deteriorating conditions

Signage, apparently posted by the Ocean Forest Lakes HOA, declares the road closed; no effort is being made to reopen it. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Signage, apparently posted by the Ocean Forest Lakes HOA, declares the road closed; no effort is being made to reopen it. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

According to Amanda Marino, who lives just inside the limits of Ocean Forest Lakes but isn’t covered by the development’s HOA, the issue began at the start of 2017 and has become considerably worse since then.

“I am now afraid someone will be seriously hurt. The hole has now turned into three holes, one is constantly retaining water, cables are exposed on the right side,” Marino said.

Signs apparently erected by the Ocean Forest Lakes development state the road is closed. Marino said the signs declaring the road closed have been repeatedly knocked down or removed.

“Since the signs have been completely destroyed, many of us have driven down the street and over the holes at night assuming a repair had happened. I cannot be the only flat tire in this neighborhood, though that is the least of our worries. If one motorcycle comes down the street, that driver could be fatally injured,” Marino said.

New Hanover County spokeswoman Jessica Loeper said the county’s emergency services department confirmed first responders can still reach all residences on Ontario Road. However, it is not clear if they have to drive the long way around, through other parts of the Woodlake development.

Related: Here’s the deal on River Road closures

Loeper also said the county’s engineering department was acting as an “intermediary” between the Woodlake and Ocean Forest Lake developments, consulting on draining issues that are exacerbating the road issue.

According to Brett Keeler, president of the Woodlake HOA, the board of the HOA took over from the Cottera Capital, the Woodlake developer, on November 30, 2017. Since then, Keeler said the board of directors for both HOAs have been “in consistent contact.”

Who’s responsible for fixing the road?

According to Jimmy Paige, president of Ocean Forest Lake’s Homeowners Association, the development has no intention of paying for repairs even though the pothole is inside the Ocean Forest Lakes development. Paige said that the wear and tear on the road was due exclusively to Woodlake residents.

“If it were up to us, those roads wouldn’t be there – we didn’t want them. They were dead end roads,” Paige said. “Before Woodlake was built there was only one or two properties where residents would use that part of the road. Now the whole (Woodlake) development drives through there.”

According to the establishing documents of the Woodlake development, contractors paid $100 per lot into a capital fund to help pay for road maintenance – since Woodlake residents would have to use Ocean Forest Lakes’ roads to leave their development.

The documents also require Woodlake to pay a “prorata amount” for road maintenance to Ocean Forest Lakes. However, Paige said Woodlake had only paid $27,000 – through its contractor, for 271 lots – and nothing more.

From the December 2007 founding documents of Woodlake: developers agreed to pay $100 per lot to help cover road costs in neighboring Ocean Forest Lakes. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY NEW HANOVER COUNTY REGISTER OF DEEDS)
From the December 2007 founding documents of Woodlake: developers agreed to pay $100 per lot to help cover road costs in neighboring Ocean Forest Lakes. (Port City Daily photo /COURTESY NEW HANOVER COUNTY REGISTER OF DEEDS)

According to Paige, Ocean Forest Lakes has since spent $180,000 to pave and maintain roads used by both developments. Woodlake, he said, has not contributed any additional funds.

“Woodlake hasn’t paid a cent since then, and the residents haven’t paid a damn penny,” Paige said.

Keeler argued that Paige’s statement was misleading. According to Keeler, “there were other tradeoffs when the development was approved between the original developer and (Ocean Forest Lakes) for the $180,000 in road improvements over the past 10 years; (Ocean Forest Lakes) did not make those improvements with any expectation that there would be further contribution to offset that expenditure.”

According to Keeler, the road share agreement between Woodlake and Ocean Forest Lakes does require a 20 percent contribution from Woodlake — but not until the recent turnover from the developer to the Woodlake HOA, which happened in November of 2017. According to Keeler, the first invoice was delivered on Tuesday, April 3.

The 2008 roadshare agreement between Woodlake and Ocean Forest Lakes, dictating a 20% contribution from Woodlake for road maintenance. (Port City Daily photo | NEW HANOVER COUNTY)
The 2008 road share agreement between Woodlake and Ocean Forest Lakes, dictating a 20% contribution from Woodlake for road maintenance. (Port City Daily photo | NEW HANOVER COUNTY)

Lawsuit ahead?

Marino said she believed Ocean Forest Lakes was holding out on repairs, hoping Woodlake’s inaction will eventually lead to a lawsuit. But in the meantime, she said residents have had a hard time getting any information.

“They told us we could drive on our yard to avoid the road closure signs, and when we weren’t happy about that, we tried to contact the HOA but they’d taken all the contact information and the website down,” Marino said.

Paige declined to comment on the possibility of a lawsuit. The Ocean Forest Lakes website appears to have been down since 2014, according to the Internet Archive. Repeated calls and emails to the D.R. Horton company, the builder of the Woodlake development that also handle house sales, were not returned.

Keeler said Woodlake HOA has no current plans for a lawsuit. However, he added, “Due to the unresolved nature of the pothole issue, and the fact that the (Woodlake) HOA is not a party to that issue, we are not prepared to comment on the status of the fixing of the road.”


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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