Towne Park resident Scott Varner says every board needs a watchdog.
For the last two years in his neighborhood, that watchdog's been him. He's seen a Homeowners Association run amok, with rules and regulations so strictly interpreted that talking with your neighbors by your mailbox was considered loitering, a handful of weeds could get you fined and Christmas invitations were referred to as "solicitation." Varner saw a board that perpetuated itself, keeping the same players in power, a microcosm of democracy gone awry. Varner's newsletter decrying the board resulted in a fine, which gave him cause for arbitration last summer.
These are exactly the kinds of concerns that prompted City Councilor Don Harris in January to move to form a task force to investigate neighborhood and homeowners associations around the city. So far the councilor's measure has been sent from the Land Use Planning and Zoning committee to the full Council without recommendation, Harris says. Expect to hear more about the bill in a couple of weeks after it's been amended.
The Alibi has been writing about Towne Park, a 485-home community in the Northeast Heights, for almost two years now. Happily, there's good news about the neighborhood, says Varner. Finally, there's a new board in place, one that's looking to hire a management company and to settle a lawsuit with landowner Sandia Foundation this week. The foundation was contending that land-lease payments were coming in late and property taxes weren't being paid properly. Proper insurance was not maintained either, according to a suit in progress in May 2006. Most of those money issues have been resolved, says Anne Blackburn, a new board member. But there's still some tinkering to be done to the rules of the agreement between Towne Park and Sandia.
It all hit the fan for the old board at the end of January. Blackburn was outside putting proxy votes in the box for people who couldn't attend the meeting when she heard all this noise coming from inside. "I thought, 'Heck with this,'" she says, "I'm going to see what's happening." Residents were trying to add an item to the agenda, but the board wouldn't hear of it, she says, adding that President Tom Krege then adjourned the meeting, turned off the lights and stormed out with the microphone. Somehow, the rabble-rousing residents got the lights back on and overthrew the Homeowners Association, voting in a new board and giving Blackburn a seat.
Bill Shue, the association's new vice president, says the main goal so far has been to reach out to residents who've had a bad experience with their board for the last two years. "We're on a real positive course to serve the people who live in Towne Park; listen to them and get their input," he says. "Towne Park has a lot of rules and regulations, and that's fine as long as they're enforced in a reasonable way."