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Pond problems: City, residents work to resolve flooding issues

Posted on Sunday, July 8, 2018 at 6:00 am

By Rachel Christian
Staff Writer
St. Cloud residents squared off against local officials last week as the role of homeowners associations (HOAs) and the use of public funds were called into question at a city meeting.
Frustrations focused on a single unkept pond – one of more than 380 the city

Some St. Cloud residents have been complaining to local officials about an overgrown pond in the Villa Home Villages subdivision.

inspects annually to adhere to federal water and drainage standards.
The pond in question lies is in a small, established St. Cloud subdivision of roughly 50 homes called Villa Home Villages. The pond has become an eyesore, with tall grass, small trees, trash and debris littering the one-acre dry pond designed to collect runoff water from nearby homes.
Residents have complained about it for years and demanded public officials take action. They argue that the pond is more than just overgrown – it’s so clogged and poorly maintained that the community has experienced severe flooding issues, especially in September after Hurricane Irma.
“There was over three feet of water in the middle of the road,” said resident James Johnson, who presented photos to the council that depicted flooded neighborhood streets. “What we started noticing is everything coming off of Missouri, which is not part of our subdivision, is actually draining into our subdivision. Yes, it’s our pond, but we’re also taking on water from other city streets.”
It soon became clear though that fixing the issue wasn’t simple.
St. Cloud inspects ponds like the one at Villa Home, but since the ditches reside on private property, the city can’t legally maintain them. Instead, code enforcement can place a lien on a site that isn’t compliant, and it is up to the owner to resolve the issue.
The pond in question has received five liens in the last two decades. The lack of action led the city to instigate the matter a few years ago.
What officials discovered illustrates the murky gray area between local government and HOA jurisdiction.
The subdivision’s HOA has disbanded in 2006 due to inactivity, but the nonprofit agency still technically owned the property. A new one had never replaced it and long-time residents said they weren’t aware one had ever existed in the first place.
Since cities can’t legally use public monies to maintain private property, residents would need to re-instate the HOA if they wanted to fix the pond, city officials said.
The solution didn’t bode well with residents.
“None of us want an HOA,” said Darlene McGarry, who has been a resident since 2001. “The first thing I asked the realtor was if there was an HOA, and she said there wasn’t one. Otherwise I wouldn’t have moved there in the first place.”
Others pointed to a May 2015 neighborhood meeting in which board members told residents they would take the issue to the city council to vote on action.
No promises were made, but local government action was implied, residents argued.
City Manager Bill Sturgeon sympathized with disgruntled homeowners. He acknowledged that a lack of city oversight had delayed a resolution.
“There’s been four city managers in the last three years and different public service directors,” he said. “It fell through the cracks, admittedly.”
But Sturgeon and others held steady that public funds can’t be used to maintain the pond, which would cost an estimated $5,000 annually to upkeep. The city’s hands were tied until an HOA was re-instated.
City Councilman Dave Askew said that although no one wants a domineering HOA to establish high annual fees, the organization could form with a single purpose of upkeeping the pond.
“You can make your HOA nothing,” he said. “I know everyone is scared of the HOA part of it, but you can really create your own rules.”
Councilman Donny Shroyer asked what the city could do to purchase and acquire the property. But as City Attorney Daniel Mantzaris and others pointed out, if St. Cloud made an exception for Villa Homes, it could find itself doing the same for multiple communities on a limited city budget.
One final point was brought up that could change the entire situation.
If the pond permit reveals it wasn’t built to handle extra run-off from public ally maintained roads as Johnson and other residents claimed, homeowners could build a solid case. The city can take it over if the pond is providing drainage for public roads and outside sources, Mantzaris said.
Two action items were finally taken on the murky matter – a short and long-term solution.
Another lien will be placed on the pond so code enforcement can mow and clean it up.
A flood water analysis was also ordered to determine if the pond is serving a greater public purpose.