So when it snows, no one plows – as in the case of Needham Village, a nine-house subdivision off of Rt. 618 (Lake Monticello Road).  Residents drive over the snow or remain inside their houses, waiting for it to melt.  The slick road is seen by some residents as a nuisance – maybe even a tremendous nuisance – but, after all, one that only pops up two or three times a year.

Or parents drive their children all the way to where their subdivision hits the main road, as in the case of Taylor Ridge off Rt. 53, because school buses usually can’t drive on private roads.  It’s an inconvenience – maybe even a terrible inconvenience – but it becomes routine.

But what happens when the roads start falling apart?  When the potholes proliferate and the cracks in the asphalt branch like lightning bolts till chunks of the road break under the weight of the cars driving over it?  Who pays for the road then?

It could be the homeowners.

How did this happen?

During the boom in the early 2000s developers flocked to create subdivisions – many right here in Fluvanna – and the thought of what could happen if they were left unfinished typically didn’t arise, said Steve Tugwell, senior planner for Fluvanna County, “because people were finishing them.”

But then came the financial crisis and developers went bankrupt in spades.  Left in “various states of completion,” many developments “ended up being transferred to banks and lenders who aren’t used to being developers,” said Jason Stewart, planning and zoning administrator.  In some cases the developments were transferred several times, confusing any attempt to pinpoint the identity of the successor developer, who Stewart said bears the responsibility for improving the roads until they can be accepted into the state system.

Stewart and Tugwell, neither of whom worked in Fluvanna when Needham Village was approved, explained that the county’s ordinances require subdivision roads be brought to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) specifications and that the streets be dedicated to public use on the approved plats, or maps of the planned development.  Often the developer put up a bond – $150,000 in the case of Needham Village – “in case they defaulted on their responsibility to bring the road into the system,” said Stewart.  The company wouldn’t want to forfeit the money, and if it did, the county would have funds to properly improve the roads and have them accepted into the state system.

“The problem for Fluvanna,” explained Stewart, “is when these developers abdicate their responsibilities, we’re left with few options outside of pulling the bond – if it exists – or withholding future permits, since the subdivision would be in violation of the subdivision and zoning ordinances.”

Needham Village’s bond has $30,000 remaining.  But since the roads have sat for so many years, it’s very possible that $30,000 would no longer cover the improvements that would need to be made before VDOT accepts them, said Stewart.  And if that’s the case, who puts up the remaining dollars?

It can’t be the county, Stewart said.  That would violate state code.

So then – who?

Who owns the roads?

Needham Village was originally developed beginning in 2007 by Redlands Deign & Construction LLC with a company managing partner Ron Carter created for the sake of the development, Needham Village LLC.  When those companies closed down during the recession, the property was sold “on the courthouse steps,” said Carter, to BB&T bank in 2011.  Then in 2012 Monarch LLC, owned by Liberty Homes owner Shawn Tuthill, took over.  Monarch still owns the unsold lots and as a “courtesy” to homeowners has added Needham Village to a plowing schedule.

But when speaking to the Fluvanna Review each company but BB&T, who declined to comment pending further investigation, denied holding ownership of the roads themselves: 200-foot Needham Lane and 500-foot Carriage Hill Road.

After days of perusing deeds, subdivision covenants and restrictions, and contacting several lawyers, the Review was finally able to determine who owns the roads in Needham Village.

The answer, said county attorney Fred Payne, is Fluvanna County.

When roads are dedicated to public use on a final plat and accepted into the public record, they become the property of the county, Payne said.  But state code prevents the county from paying for the roads to be brought into the VDOT system.

So the question isn’t really who owns the roads; rather, the question is who is going to pay for them to become state-owned?

Obviously companies aren’t chomping at the bit to lay down big bucks for roads they don’t even own.  But the county does have two plays in its playbook.

Since these subdivisions are in violation of the zoning ordinance under which they were approved, the county can withhold building permits and certificates of occupancy until the subdivision – particularly the roads – are brought into compliance.  Supervisors could also vote to vacate the remaining undeveloped lots on the approved plat.

These actions, which would essentially freeze the ability of a developer or builder to make any further money off the subdivision, could spur a company to voluntarily pay for the roads.

If that doesn’t work, Payne suggested that homeowners consider consulting their lawyers, since “they may have a claim against their sellers” if they were told by their real estate agents that their roads were public or that road maintenance was someone else’s responsibility.

What’s next?

The county can also pull what’s left of the road bond – if there is one – to pay for the needed improvements to the roads.  This may happen in the case of Needham Village.

Though getting the roads into the state system shouldn’t be the county’s responsibility, Stewart said that county staff will bring VDOT to Needham Village this spring to walk the roads and develop a “punch list” of what needs to be done.  The county will likely contract with a company to perform the needed tasks if the price tag falls below the $30,000 remaining in the bond.  But if the improvements will cost more, no one knows what will happen.

“Many individuals bought houses in these [types of] developments unaware that they were not living on public streets that would be plowed by the state during snowstorms or would allow for the school buses to enter the neighborhood to pick their children up,” Stewart said.  “We are working on compiling a list of subdivisions that were built to require a VDOT-maintained street and assess their compliance with the ordinances under which they were originally approved.  [County Administrator Steve] Nichols and I think this is an important issue to address moving forward and plan to brief the Board [of Supervisors] at future meetings.”

So what about the residents who live on those streets?  What are they supposed to do about the absence of school buses, the blankets of snow, and the eventual deterioration of the roads themselves?

Shawn Tuthill of Monarch and Liberty Homes said it best: “I don’t know.”

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