Just last year, Alma Kohuth’s neighbors found themselves regularly dumping asphalt into potholes that scarred the roads running by their Mooresville homes.
The developer of Lake Hills Estates had gone out of business and the new developer had passed the blame for the potholes on to the old developer, leaving Kohuth and the other homeowners in a lurch.
To make matters worse, Lake Hills Drive and Cabana Drive were deemed public roads when Lake Hills Estates was developed in 2003. The state could take over the roads and make the repairs — eventually.
But state restrictions on how and when privately built streets become the property of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s secondary-road system had the residents of Lake Hills Estate facing, literally, a rocky road.
“We couldn’t get anywhere with them (NCDOT) as far as doing anything with the roads,” Kohuth said. “We had no help and no snow and ice removal because it was not a state road. They said it was the responsibility of the builder.”
Ultimately, every homeowner in Lake Hills Estates had to pay more than $2,000 last summer to upgrade the streets before the state took them over.
The residents of Lake Hills Estate probably won’t be the last to face such headaches as subdivisions around the state are left unfinished and developers go under thanks to a rough housing market, some say.
Delbert Roddenberry, NCDOT secondary-roads program manager, said the problem facing Lake Hills Estates homeowners is one his department expects to worsen.
“We have this from time to time,” he said. “The developer went under and the property owners are left holding the bag.
“I hate hanging up the phone and telling people there’s nothing we can do. I’d like to say, ‘If you call this person, they might can help,’ but I don’t know who that person is.”
The problem has led Thomas Brasse, a lot-development project manager with Charlotte-based real estate investment firm Faison, to ask the state to change the NCDOT laws for subdivision roads.
Brasse, who also happens to live in a Charlotte subdivision with rundown roads that have yet to be taken over by NCDOT, said there should be a rule forcing the state transportation department to accept streets in new subdivisions within a year of construction.
Some municipalities in the state have such rules in effect, he said.
Conditions must be met
Roads in subdivisions aren’t just rolled into the state’s possession at the request of residents.
Under state rules, certain conditions must be met before a road makes it into the secondary-road system, Roddenberry said.
For a subdivision, there has to be a minimum of four homes on the road. For a cul-de-sac, there needs to be an average of two homes for every tenth of a mile.
Also, the pavement must be in good condition, without potholes and cracking, Roddenberry said. An engineer must certify that the depth of the road base meets state standards. There are also state requirements for a road’s width, curvatures, design and drainage system.
Brasse and his neighbors in the Miranda subdivision, built in 2001 in northwest Charlotte, are faced with coughing up $40,000 to meet those requirements.
“Our road is starting to come apart due to a lack of maintenance,” he said. “My neighbors and I are patching potholes and screwing road signs back up that have been blown down.”
Patching potholes requires a trip to the nearby Lowe’s Home Improvement store, where members of the Miranda subdivision can buy asphalt; price: $15 a bag.
A small pothole — one that is 1 foot in diameter — requires two bags of asphalt, Brasse said. A pothole of that size can take residents about an hour to fill.
But such is their lot in life, since the original developer, Bost Building Co., went out of business in 2008 when financing for the subdivision fell through.
The homes have been completed for the past six or seven years, Brasse said.
Brasse said he met with a state transportation department supervisor in fall 2010, walking the subdivision’s streets with him. But his petition to have the state accept the road into its system was denied.
“They refused and stated that one of the roads (Ed Reid Street) would have to be completely milled and new asphalt placed, new storm grates installed … and a curb replaced,” he said.
“This particular street is 100 percent built-out and has been for years with the residents paying taxes on $300,000-plus houses,” he said. “No matter. They want a new street and made it clear that the homeowners could get together and fund it and then they would reconsider the request.”
Brasse said the state will not consider adopting a road unless the subdivision is 90 percent “built-out,” meaning the houses are constructed, even if the road that needs to be repaired is complete.
“What happens if you have a neighborhood like mine?” Brasse said. “I actually live in a neighborhood where the streets were all built about 10 years ago. The builder has gone under, but the neighborhood is about 70 percent built-out.”
Brasse said it could take 20 years to sell enough of the lots for a subdivision to be 90 percent built-out.
“Then it’ll be 20 years before they consider accepting the roads and they will have to be pristine when they do,” he said. “In the meantime, you have residents paying taxes who are responsible for maintaining a public road, and almost all of them have no idea.”
Roddenberry said it’s true: Some areas of the state’s secondary-road department have the 90 percent requirement, and it’s likely that Division 10, which oversees roads in Mecklenburg County, follows that policy. That’s because the biggest cause of potholes and cracks is construction-related traffic, he said.
As Brasse goes about fixing his own potholes, he offers a word of caution to homeowners and real estate agents.
He said some homeowners might be unknowingly living next to roads that are deemed public but have never been placed in the state’s system.
That could cause liability issues for real estate agents who try to sell a home sitting on one of those roads, he said.
“Their listing agent has considerable liability if they do not realize that although the road is platted as public, NCDOT is not maintaining it,” he said.
Brasse calls the whole system absurd.
“NCDOT took over the road maintenance from the counties decades ago when the counties were all going bankrupt and the roads were deteriorating,” he said. “Now they are platted public, allegedly under NCDOT’s maintenance, and they find ways to avoid maintaining them, so we have the same problem.
“This is a safety issue and a real problem. We need a simple rule to require NCDOT to maintain publically platted roadways within one year of construction, period.”
Tara Ramsey can be reached at email@example.com.