17 June 2009

BEWARE: This is what happens when your "community" is privately owned -- it can be traded like a baseball card to the highest bidder

What next for Four Seasons?
Published: June 17, 2009

Last month, a development group based in Northern Virginia paid $5 million to take Four Seasons, the upscale 204-acre active adult community in Ruckersville, off the hands of New York’s Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company (M&T).

The bank bought the subdivision at auction on the steps of the County’s courthouse January 22.

The sale of Four Seasons by M&T to Charlottesville Land Development Group, LLC of Vienna went through at the end of May. But ownership of its plush multi-million dollar clubhouse—and other common areas—is yet to be resolved.

Four Seasons’ homeowners association says those areas belong to it. The bank says they go with the sale.

The situation leaves homeowners in a potential financial mess, according to documents obtained by The Record. In an e-mail, the finances of Four Seasons at Charlottesville Community Association Inc. are described by the sender as “in shambles,“ with no funds in its reserve account and payments being delayed to “several vendors.“

The association filed a lawsuit on January 14, just eight days before the bank purchased the subdivision. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that contradictory statements were published in the notice of sale of Four Seasons. By February 10, Judge Daniel R. Bouton had signed a joint motion for a stay on the lawsuit, so “all parties” could settle their differences.

The documents obtained from the association member last week show that since then, talks between the parties have been ongoing.

The subdivision was proffered in 2004 as a residential development with expectations of up to 650 single-family homes. According to the documents turned over to the Record last week, only 83 homes are currently occupied.

The documents show that if only residents contribute to the current maintenance costs, each would have to pay roughly $650 per month to maintain the common areas.

“The fact is,“ say those documents, “in the coming days we may well face some major decisions. If so, then we will either make them consciously, or they will be made for us.“

Two of those decisions, according to the documents, are whether or not to drop the continuing legal stay, and whether or not to temporarily close the clubhouse.

The 16,000 square foot clubhouse, which includes an indoor pool, is an integral part of the development. Just last month, it was the site for a gathering to celebrate local businesses by the county’s economic development department.

K. Hovnanian Homes first started building in the development in mid-2006. That company’s website describes its active adult communities such as Four Seasons as “private world(s) where … recreation abounds … quality is second to none” and activities are planned year round.

That was the vision many of the current residents are hanging onto.

In the meantime, as part of the lawsuit, the association and the bank disagree as to whether the association’s declaration has been dissolved.

According to the Code of Virginia, a declaration is the instrument that imposes the responsibility for maintenance of the common areas on homeowners associations, and gives those associations the power to impose mandatory payment toward those responsibilities on lot-owners.

According to documents filed in Greene’s Circuit Court, the Four Seasons homeowners association is charged with “owning, operating and maintaining the common area within the property.“ The declaration also states that the association’s ownership of the common area shall be free of liens. At the time the suit was filed, that common area included the clubhouse.

The declaration was part of the proffers offered the county when its Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the developer’s rezoning request on July 13, 2004. Proffers have the force of zoning law under the Code of Virginia, according to documents filed in the Greene County Circuit Court.

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