POA Plot Thickens

LongCreek Residents Want Answers

‘Sick’ Tree May Have Been Healthy

BLYTHEWOOD – The pot continued to boil in Blythewood’s LongCreek Plantation last week when 50 or so of the subdivision’s residents packed their Property Owners’ Association’s (POA) board of directors’ meeting on June 11 at the Columbia Country Club. Residents chastised the board, saying it had not held developer Gateway LLC to the same standards to which it holds the subdivision’s residents in regard to adherence to deed restrictions and covenants.

In two separate purchases, Gateway acquired 10 acres and later another 1.4 acres at the southern entrance to LongCreek Plantation in the spring of 2013, where it is currently developing a new neighborhood called The Gates. On Jan. 17, the developer had the subdivision’s signature giant oak tree cut down followed by the removal of the stone entrance sign and fountain in order to make way for an entrance road into the new neighborhood. According to deed restrictions in a contract between Gateway and the property’s previous owner, Trinity Presbytery, Inc., the tree and sign were specifically protected from removal.

POA board president Stephen Stackhouse told POA members at the Wednesday evening meeting that the issue of the deed restriction on the tree and sign removal was between the Presbyterian Church and Gateway and that the POA board could not, without liability, insert itself into third party deed restrictions. Stackhouse said South Carolina law states that a POA and its board’s powers must be explicitly granted by contract, declaration, bylaws or statute, and that the board is only authorized to enforce the provisions of the LongCreek declaration and bylaws.

“We are not authorized to enforce any other restrictive covenants,” Stackhouse said. “That was a contract between the church and the developer.”

While the media and those LongCreek residents who are not members of the subdivision’s POA were barred from the meeting by Stackhouse, The Voice acquired a recording of the meeting. On the recording, Stackhouse can be heard explaining that the tree in question was removed because it was “rotten to the core.” Yet, published minutes provided to The Voice of the POA board meeting on Jan. 8, stated that the tree was being regularly checked by arborists Sox and Freeman, and that it “was said to be in good health for the time being.” Nine days later the tree was cut down. No information about the tree or its fate appeared in subsequent board meeting minutes or other correspondence with homeowners.

POA member Bernie Randolph pointed out that deed restrictions also called for the subdivision to maintain a 20-foot vegetation easement with 50 percent opacity along where the tree and sign were located and that now very little vegetation is left.

“We, the homeowners, have to abide by the (deed restriction) rules and so should the developer,” Randolph told Stackhouse in the recording.

Stackhouse countered that another reason the tree and signs had to be removed was because they were partially in the S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) right of way. POA member Gene Barbrow told Stackhouse he, too, had spoken with DOT’s engineer who said that if (Gateway) had not wanted a road there, DOT had no problem with the sign and tree being there. But the engineer said “if you put the entrance road there, the sign would be in the line of sight,” indicating that it would have to be removed, Barbrow said.

Other evidence was presented by residents that they said indicates that the developer had for at least two years planned to remove the tree and sign. The tree and sign had already been eliminated on a sketch plan submitted by the developer for a traffic study in 2011, according to documents acquired from DOT by Barbrow through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. A site plan prepared for the developer dated October 2013 also showed a road where the tree and sign were located.

POA member Nicole Lofurno told Stackhouse that recently another POA homeowner was fined $500 by the POA board for cutting down trees.

“This developer cuts down our signature tree and nothing happens. That’s not fair,” Lofurno said.

While Stackhouse conceded that he didn’t really like the sign that was removed, he said, “If you don’t think I’m going to keep the developer’s feet to the fire, you don’t know squat.”

“Besides all the problems associated with this issue, I am once again disappointed that our POA board does not keep us informed of what they plan to do,” Lofurno told The Voice. “We were blindsided that Gateway was going to remove the tree, sign and fountain. And our board seems irritated that we even want to ask questions about things like this at their meetings.”

In an email to POA members following the meeting, Stackhouse said he did not plan to comment publicly about the article that appeared last week in The Voice.