Category Archives: Homeowners Association

A grassroots movement to change our Homeowners Association Board

Karol and I purchased a house in a very nice neighborhood about 8 years ago. Before that she was stationed in Pennsylvania, and I was living in a little three-bedroom house I had purchased after my divorce. I loved that little house because it was something I bought on my own with my own credited and just my income. It felt like a major accomplishment to be able to provide that for my kids. It was a very small house in a working class neighborhood and I loved it.

I was a single working mom, and my kids went to daycare at a Baptist church just outside the neighborhood. While at the daycare my younger son became good friends with one of the other boys and was invited to a birthday party. When I took The Genius to the birthday party I just thought their house was the most elegant and beautiful home I had ever been in. I drove around the neighborhood and just fell in love with it. The houses were pretty, there was an elementary school in the neighborhood, a pool, tennis courts, and it was clean and tidy. It was just a very pretty place, and I wished I could live there.

Fast-forward about 6 months, and Karol was up for orders. We wanted her back in Virginia, so she chose to go back to sea duty and was able to get orders back to Hampton Roads. We were ecstatic and I started looking for homes. Of course the first place I looked was in the neighborhood that I had fallen in love with and a realtor and I started looking at houses. There was one house I really liked, but unfortunately by the time my realtor was able to write up a contract and get it to their realtor, the house was already under contract. What a bummer. So Karol and I expanded our search area and started looking in Hampton as well as Chesapeake and Suffolk. We actually started looking into building a house in Hampton, and gave them a down payment, and then I realized (thank goodness) that the house was being built on wetlands, so although we were promised a ¼ acre lot, 90% of the ¼ acre was on wetlands and we could not utilize it as a backyard. Since this was not disclosed to us when we made our down payment we were able to get out of that deal, and found ourselves back at square one.

However, as it turns out the house I really loved in Suffolk was available because the buyers had not been able to secure financing. Their loss was my gain, and Karol agreed to let me start paperwork to buy the house. It is the house we live in now, and it was in the neighborhood I fell in love with, Burbage Grant. We moved into this neighborhood in July 2006, and spent that summer getting acclimated to a new neighborhood, and a new town. The next summer our youngest two kids joined the neighborhood swim team, and had such a great time hanging out with their friends from school during the summer. It was a wonderful experience for my kids, and we became a part of the swim team “family”.

HOA

Unfortunately there was some pushback from some of our community leaders against the swim team and we had a very bad experience with the Homeowners Association Board, which I wrote about. Because of the negative, and very public way the HOA Board opposed the swim team, the parents got together and decided to start a grass roots movement to unseat the board and oust the negative board members who had been on the board for at many years with no opposition. In fact, the people who live here had become so apathetic because we did not feel the HOA Board was reasonable, that no one even bothered to show up to the annual meeting to try to make a change. It wasn’t until a group who has a shared interest in something they value felt threatened, that we were able to get the ball rolling for change. One of the parents stepped up to run for a seat on the board, and other neighbors who supported the swim team but did not have kids on the team also stepped forward. The team parents gathered their momentum, and proxies, and we successfully voted in a new HOA Board that was more positive towards the team. Democracy is a beautiful thing.

We thought this would move the neighborhood forward in a positive way, however we were wrong. The previous HOA President took every opportunity to speak negatively about the new board, and even started quite nasty threads on a Facebook page. He made snide comments about the newly appointed board president, and called him out publicly on several occasions. He accused the new President of not understanding the HOA finances, and spending money thoughtlessly, and not being a team player, amongst other things. He rallied supporters and they would attend each monthly Board meeting with the intention (at least that is how it appeared) of undermining the President at every turn. This caused a very clear divide in the neighborhood and people started bickering publicly on Facebook. Talk about a public way to bring down our house values!!!!

Well, I am glad to report that just this week we had our annual meeting. It was extremely well attended, and both sides of the debate brought in people and proxies so they could attempt to sway the vote one way or the other. The old guard was not successful, and again for the 2015 year we have people on our HOA Board who believe in community unity and family activities, as well as fiscal responsibility. I can only hope that with this second round of the community speaking quite loudly the troublemaker will finally slink away and realize his time is done.

I love democracy, and the ability to make changes with voting and canvassing. This is our democratic process in action, and it makes me proud that I believe in something so much that I am willing to fight for it!!

When the Homeowner’s Association goes too far.

I live in Southeast Virginia.  I have been here since 2002 when the Navy chose to station me here at a local helicopter squadron.  When I retired from the Navy in 2004 after 20 years of service I decided that I didn’t want to move and uproot my kids again, so I decided to stay here in Southeast Virginia.  In July of 2006 we bought and moved into a house in a very nice subdivision in Suffolk.  When we moved in I promised my two boys that we wouldn’t have to move again and that we would stay here until they graduated from high school.  That was very important to me, and so we were thrilled when we found a house we loved in a subdivision called Burbage Grant.

Soon after moving in, my kids started school at the elementary school located in the neighborhood, and I was even more excited about the neighborhood!  The teachers were amazing, the school was only 1/4 mile from our house, and the after-school care was affordable.  The kids quickly made friends, and I started to make friends in the neighborhood as well.

I think one of the things I loved most about Burbage Grant (BG) was the fact that so many people knew each other and everyone seemed so nice.  My oldest son started playing Little league and we met more people who lived in BG.  Then the boys transferred from our Chesapeake Boy Scout troop to a Suffolk Troop, and even more BG people entered our lives!  Living in a community that felt so tight knit was awesome!!

The summer of 2007 we found out that Burbage Grant had a neighborhood summer swim team, and I signed the boys up immediately.  It was not free, we had to pay a registration fee, and buy swim suits, but to have an activity for my boys to participate in that was in the neighborhood where we lived, and kept them busy was a godsend for this worried mother. That summer my boys got hooked and we have been participating in the Tsunami Swim Club for the past 6 years!

Tsunami Swim Club 2013

Tsunami Swim Club 2013

The swim club has a short season, only 6 weeks, and we practice in the neighborhood pool 4 nights each week from 6:45 until 8:45 (two one hour sessions divided by age group of the kids).  To be honest the first few weeks (from Memorial Day until at least June 20) the water is cold and the swimmers come out with blue lips at times.   To their credit parents have to tell them to get out and get warmed up because the kids love the team so much they want to just keep swimming.

In 2009, our Homeowners Association Board of Directors decided it was time to charge us “rent” for the use of the pool.  Keep in mind that the Tsunami Swim Club was formed in 1996 and had never been charged fees before this time.  We were charged $700.00 for our 6 weeks of practice (where we use only 3 lanes of a 6 lane pool) 4 nights per week, and $200.00 per meet (we usually have 4 home meets), for a total of $1500.00.  This is of course above and beyond our normal homeowners dues to use the pool. We said, “ok, that is fair”, and began paying 4 years ago.

3 years ago I became the Team Manager.  This is a loose term because the team is parent run, but someone has to organize things, and I became that person.  I had to attend the HOA Board meetings in March to “hammer” out the details of the swim club license agreement with them.  Every year that I went I heard from at least two board members about how “neighbors complained” about Tsunami “taking over” the pool, and one even said that Tsunami was “trouble” for them.  They reluctantly allowed us to continue swimming in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

brook swimming

Each year as I entered the Board meeting in March I knew it was going to be a struggle and was going to have to hear all of the bad things about the team.  I always kept my cool and countered each allegation with facts and no innuendos.  This past year we were told that they felt “threatened” because our Treasurer sent an email asking for a refund for a night we could not practice.  A child has vomited in the pool, and the lifeguards did not have the proper chemicals to treat the pool.  If they had we would have been able to have at least one practice.  When we asked for a refund due to no proper chemicals being on hand apparently they felt “threatened”.  I am still confused about that to this day.

I did receive an email from the HOA President this past summer threatening to kick us out of the pool and “immediately cancel our license agreement”.  One of the lifeguards had complained about something one of the volunteer assistant coaches said and I was sent an email about a “substantiated” report of disrespect.  My response was that it was NOT substantiated because our side of the story had not been heard.  He conceded on that point, and we continued swimming our season.

Last Saturday I received a letter signed by the HOA President telling me that we would not be allowed to swim during the 2014 Season. No reason given. No explanation.  Just “you will not be granted an agreement to use the pool.” I immediately shared this information with the swim team parents who were incredulous.  We had not been given any warning.  We had not been told of any problems.  Our fees were raised in 2013, and we paid them with no complaint.  I was shocked and couldn’t figure out why the HOA Board decided to vote this way.  According to the letter it was a “unanimous” vote.  A vote done without any conversation or meaningful dialogue.  A decision to ban a non profit community team without a discussion. A team comprised solely of swimmers who live in the neighborhood.

Of course I organized a meeting with the parents to try and find a way to approach the HOA Board  in a calm rational manner.  We had a very productive meeting and voted to attend the next HOA meeting to ask for a meaningful conversation to try to reverse their decision.  We knew we would probably have to make concessions, but were okay with that if it meant we could keep the team.

Then last night the President of the BOD sent out a letter to “all of Burbage Grant”  and here is a copy of it:Needless to say I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe he would send such an inflammatory and biased letter filled with misinformation to the entire neighborhood.  And he used the Neighborhood Watch email to send it. Definitely the wrong platform.

The Vision statement from our neighborhood website clearly states:

The mission of the Burbage Grant Owners Association is to develop and encourage new activities that promote community unity while maintaining the architectural integrity, maintenance, and value of our homes and community property through fiscal responsibility and upholding the highest ethical and moral standards.

It seems our HOA and BOD has forgotten the mission and has forgotten they are supposed to serve the entire community, not malign one piece of it.  A neighborhood swim team definitely promotes community unity.  We don’t have a “perceived” sense of importance.  We ARE important. I guarantee you this won’t be the last word on this issue.  We will be out at the Board meeting this week in force, and we will be a force to be reckoned with!

I think what floors me the most to paraphrase from one of our swim team parents is that their arguments are all one sided and without merit.  It is without recent quantitative statical analysis or official data-points with any sort of official polling of our homeowners.

Strap on your seat belts it will be a bumpy ride.  

Some of our swimmers at the 2013 All Star meet which is composed of all the teams in the Western Tidewater Swim Association.

tsc at wtsa allstars