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Dues dispute divides

There's unrest in scenic Davis Lake, the rolling development of hundreds of homes, condos and townhouses that helped launch the building boom in what became University City.

Each year, residents of the 24-condo Legacy at Davis Lake and the 81-townhouse Woodcroft at Davis Lake pay nearly $60,000 in dues to an umbrella homeowners association – and wonder what it goes for.

There's a pool and clubhouse, which they say few in Legacy and Woodcroft use.

Their dues, they say, don't go to keep up their common grounds. They have to pay separately for roof repairs, and repairs to streets, and water and sewer pipes. If a tree on common property dies, they pay separately to cut it down.

Now most Legacy and Woodcroft residents want out of the Davis Lake Community Association.

“From the day the developer turned Legacy over to us almost seven years ago, we've gone to the management and homeowners association and asked, ‘What are we paying for?' Because we get nothing,” said Claire Green Fallon, the first and only president of Legacy's homeowners association.

“It's like the little coal train leaves the station full of cash and always comes back empty.

“We want a divorce.”

Request to secede denied

Like most neighborhood quarrels, this one's not simple: Efforts to separate from homeowners associations are rare because they're difficult and can be costly.

A lawyer for Davis Lake said the association board has properly assessed dues according to governing documents.

Two weeks ago, the community's 825 homeowners voted on whether to allow Legacy and Woodcroft to secede.

Overwhelmingly, they said “no.”

Yet Legacy and Woodcroft only had 105 potential votes.

It's important to understand Davis Lake's governing structure. Ground broke in 1988 off W.T. Harris Boulevard West for a classic planned community around a 14-acre lake. A “master” homeowners association was charged with enforcing rules and assessing and collecting dues.

The developer, Chapel Hill-based East West Partners, also established “sub-associations” to look after the needs of Legacy and Woodcroft, which opened in 1990.

Current yearly dues to the master association are $559. Yet, each Legacy and Woodcroft homeowner pays more – at Legacy, it's $2,657 a year more – to their sub-associations for common grounds upkeep and repairs.

Charlotte lawyer Paul Hefferon represents the Davis Lake association board. In a written statement, he said the dispute is essentially over an $18-a-month dues increase. It was assessed to all homeowners after the board bought a private pool and clubhouse from the developers in 2003.

Hefferon said the entire community approved the purchase “to keep it from being sold to a private owner.” Dues entitle everyone to use those facilities.

But Fallon and Susan Becknell, president of Woodcroft's homeowners association, say most of their homeowners don't use the pool, and it's just one thing fueling the disagreement.

Woodcroft's lawyer, John Buric of Charlotte, said his clients approved the pool deal only on the condition their dues not be used for its upkeep.

“Lo and behold, that's where the bulk of our money is going,” Buric said.

Hefferon said the dispute has been stoked by a small band of “unhappy, vocal Legacy and Woodcroft owners.”

Those unhappy owners “understood from the beginning that they were a small minority making an unpopular demand,” Hefferon said.

“They forced an otherwise cohesive community to go through this divisive process anyway.”

Fallon said the community is not cohesive because Legacy and Woodcroft aren't represented on the Davis Lake board.

“We don't have a say in anything, especially on how our money is used,” she said. She recently polled all 24 Legacy homeowners, she said, and all but three want to secede. Becknell said 72 of 81 Woodcroft owners want out.

“We knew we'd be outnumbered and outvoted,” Becknell said.

“A lot of our homeowners didn't vote because they knew it'd be useless.”

‘We've been ignored'

On its Web site, the Davis Lake association says dues go toward “maintenance of the common grounds” and other projects.

Common areas, Hefferon said, include walking trails, tennis courts, and the pool and clubhouse.

Fallon and Becknell say little of their dues comes back to Legacy and Woodcroft. They have to pay a lawn care service a combined $42,000 a year to mow and care for plants. The walking trails, they say, are part of a county greenway open to everyone.

“We've been ignored,” Fallon said. “We're there for one reason: to supply money to take care of the Davis Lake-proper's common grounds.”

Legacy and Woodcroft, she and Becknell said, plan to take the dispute to court.

“We want a judge to decide if we should get something for our $60,000,” Becknell said.

The case may come down to whether Davis Lake's governing documents give the master association authority to extract dues from Legacy and Woodcroft, said Charlotte lawyer David Thurman, who represents Legacy.

“The (documents) are ambiguous,” Thurman said. “That's what a court is for.”