Residents of Rockford Woods in Northside, who are into their third year of negotiations with the city of Cincinnati, are frustrated, angry and fed up.
"Personally, I'm tired of being told by lawyers like David Pepper and the city solicitor's office that what we need to do is hire attorneys and sue somebody," says resident Jeffrey Leptak-Moreau. "Is it not a sad commentary on our city when their advice is basically, 'Sue us!' "
At issue is the aftermath of the unfinished 2001 CiTiRama development (see "Rocky Road," issue of June 15-21). Unpaved streets, vacant lots, back-due taxes and unsafe conditions such as unsealed wells and cisterns are among the issues residents say developer EHHV, LLC and partner Jerry Honerlaw haven't addressed.
In an Oct. 4 memo, Acting City Manager David Rager recommends city council adopt two emergency ordinances authorizing him to settle the dispute and release $50,000 to address a variety of related expenses.
The memo also states, "Dovetail and Highhollow lanes were clearly marked as 'private streets' on the recorded plat" and "The plat clearly identifies the HOA (homeowners association) or property owners as the responsible parties for this private (sewer) system."
The city uses this information to argue residents should have known an HOA was required and refuses to make the streets and sewers public.
The HOA that was required by the developer in order to get permits was never established. Residents say the HOA and dues requirements were never added to their titles or communicated in writing by the developer or real estate agents, and the city's failure to hold up the permits led to the conundrum.
"The biggest point of contention is that we have to have those streets public because we have to be able to fund any event or problem," says homeowner Della Caldwell. "With 14 homes, we can't support an HOA."
In order to establish an HOA, all residents must participate. But several, including a group home that doesn't have a budget for dues, won't agree. The city acknowledges in the memo that it can't obtain 100 percent participation but Mike Cervay, director of the Community Development and Planning Department, insists, "We must reach consensus" on the HOA. That's a polite way of telling residents they have to do what the city wants or they don't get any help.
Phase two of the development, which would add more homes, remains a vacant lot. The city has a letter of intent from Rhein Properties to purchase all undeveloped land and build the houses but on the condition that phase one issues are resolved. The letter came to the city via Honerlaw.
Cervay says he hasn't spoken with anyone at Rhein but believes the letter makes the offer legitimate and that Honerlaw wants out. He says Honerlaw will finally do the work necessary to sell the property.
"I have no reason to believe the developer won't do it," Cervay says. "The developer wants to get out of this, and if the city gives some and the property owners give some, the developer is willing to follow through."
Honerlaw did not return calls seeking comment.
Residents are skeptical. Caldwell says Honerlaw promised to pave the roads two years ago. She says residents don't understand why they have to pay for the mistakes made by the city and the developer. As a result, trust is in short supply.
"They're trying to cover their butts," Caldwell says. "They're trying to place their mistakes solely on the shoulders of citizens. That is shameful to me. I can't see how they can say, 'Trust us.' I haven't really seen anything where they've provided any evidence we should trust them."
Cervay's response is an axiom long used in real estate.
"The first rule of real estate is 'Buyer beware,' " Cervay says. "The Rockford Woods situation is an aberration, and there's plenty of blame to go around on it. Unfortunately that includes both the city and the property owners."
Caldwell says she's given enough and is pessimistic about a fair resolution.
"They're not (considering) any viable solutions," she says. "The reason that we had to become who we are today is because no one in the city is really listening to us."
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