CHARLES TOWN – After a nearly four year legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a local homeowners association has defeated a plan by its subdivision’s developer that would have carved a cut-through between U.S. 340 and W.Va. 9.
Members of Patrick Henry Estates Homeowners Association also won compensation for 27 years of road maintenance, mandated road repairs to their roads, and ownership of their common areas after filing suit in 2008 against developer Dr. Gerald Miller of Baltimore and a proposal to build an apartment complex on a strip of land between their homes and the nearby shopping center. Members would later learn that Miller also planned to open a second entrance to the subdivision that would have made the neighborhood a shortcut between U.S. 340 and W.Va. 9.
“It has been an almost debilitating burden, but we have scrimped and saved and managed to pull through. We were in a very precarious financial situation during this past winter,” said Suzanne Malesic, president of the Patrick Henry Estates HOA.
Miller appealed a lower court’s ruling against him first to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to hear Miller’s appeal in an April 2012 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Malesic says the neighborhood is “so relieved and satisfied that the rights of all of our residents were not just overrun.”
Malesic said Miller delayed turning over the HOA’s roads and common areas for almost 30 years.
“As our declaration of covenants states, the developer was to have turned over the roads and the common areas to us by Jan. 1, 1987,” Malesic said. “Winning the case is only eliminating the procrastination that occurred during these past 27, almost 28 years. This neighborhood has not been able to put a bus shelter on its common areas for its children. It has not been able to put up a picnic table or a community bulletin board or anything of that nature for 27 years.”
Malesic said the HOA has paid its legal bills with the $51,387 the court ordered Miller to pay to cover past expenses for road maintenance. Miller also has to pay for road and storm water system repairs expected to cost $186,000.
The HOA received the payment along with the deed to their roads and common areas from Miller in April.
Braun Hamstead, the HOA’s lawyer, said the decision sets potentially important precedents for litigation between HOAs and developers because there “simply isn’t much case law” out there which determines these cases.
“I think the decision is truly significant,” Hamstead said. “It addresses the cavalier way that developers sometimes have treated their residential developments and their restrictive covenants. (This behavior) is widespread. There are model declarations out there and developers who really respect what they have committed themselves to, and there are those that are just totally cavalier about the commitments they have made.”