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Reimagining Orchard Park
Residents get control of HOA, work to establish community
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When Stephanie Davis moved to Orchard Park in 2006 she had been recently married and was a looking for that special place to live, to start a family, to start a new life. When she moved, the promise of a unique community was all around her; new homes were still being built along her street. The first phase of the anticipated traditional neighborhood development was firmly underway.

Four years later, development of the neighborhood remains stuck in the first phase; and residents don’t expect it to be completed any time soon. However, that hasn’t stopped a community of neighbors from forming; in fact, their partially completed neighborhood has given them a reason to band together.

Lake of Dreams

Orchard Park was designed to be developer Hubert White’s answer to Clark’s Grove — a community harking back to the America of the inner city, where homes freely mixed with businesses. A community where the town square was recreated with its idyllic gazebo and obligatory swimming pool; where a person could walk to everything they needed.

And of course, there was the large, beautiful lake. The natural amenity is a trademark of White’s developments; the crucial selling point needed to separate a community during the home building binge. A system of walking trails was going to give residents their very own Turner Lake park.

Although it contains little else, the neighborhood’s website still proudly displays what Orchard Park was meant to be.

"Orchard Park has been a dream of Hubert's for many years. He has envisioned Orchard Park as a community where neighbors will really know each other. His vision includes them sitting on their front porches ‘visiting’ or fishing in their neighborhood lake, swimming in their neighborhood pool or playing in their neighborhood park. Life will be simpler while walking to ‘their store’ which will only be steps away," the website says.

Development started on Sept. 1, 2003, and original plans called for 253 homes to be built in multiple phases. Homes that would reinvent the styles of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, from small bungalows to large two-story homes to lofts located above the town shops. Exteriors with front porches and rocking chairs, interiors with elaborate cove moldings and arches. Every home different, every plan unique.

Davis moved to Orchard Park because of the beautiful Charleston style of homes. Jimmy Dukes moved to the neighborhood because it was unique and conveniently located. Ashley Cash built the first house she’s ever owned in Orchard Park because of the promise of a neighborhood with amenities and shops.

They all moved there to be part of something special.

When the Going Gets Tough

Orchard Park is far from alone. Like dozens of other neighborhoods over the past couple years, its plans went belly up. Not even its first phase was entirely completed; four partially constructed homes prove it. The walking trails around the lake don’t exist. The complimentary landscaping service has long since been gone. The land for shops and a playground remains untouched. Even the pool is empty.

Those facts are neither surprising nor uncommon, but the reactions of the existing homeowners may be.

"In a way I’m glad. I don’t want the neighborhood to expand, I like what we have," Dukes said.

He can say that now, because of as of January 1 it’s the homeowners who are in control of the neighborhood. White realized last year that the housing market wouldn’t be recovering any time soon. With only 77 homes completed, HOA dues were not covering the maintenance cost for amenities and vacant land. White proposed turning over control of the HOA to the residents; the idea appealed to both sides.

Some of the neighbors sat down with White and attorney Jim Alexander to discuss the transfer. The first step was for the neighborhood to form a board of directors.

Davis, Dukes and Cash were all tapped by their neighbors to serve on the board of directors. It was a daunting task because the group had to handle all the negotiations with White, start an HOA entirely from scratch and formulate a plan to take care of quite a bit of common area, including a pool and pool house, gazebo, two pavilions, tennis courts and lots of greenspace.

"We all work. None of us had ever been on a HOA board before. The neighborhood just met and they picked us," said Cash, HOA secretary, a current dance instructor and former manager for a cosmetics chain. "We all accepted the appointments because we like our neighborhood, and we’d all served on previous boards of some sort."

Even after they managed to weave their way through the tricky negotiations and legal requirements, they still had to learn on the job how to run a HOA. There were no existing records or books. They didn’t even have any documents listing all of the house numbers and residents, Dukes said. All they had was the original plat numbers.

"When things started to slow down, I thought the worst. I realized I wouldn’t get what was promised," Davis said. "But even since we’ve taken over the pool and landscaping, it’s already better."

Building a Community

Although five board members were selected, they haven’t been working alone. Electricians, plumbers, landscapers and other neighborhood residents have all volunteered their time, expertise and money to fix up buildings, update the HOA’s covenants and plan events.

Around 30 people attended the new HOA’s March 30 kick-off meeting and spent the morning cleaning out the pool, saving the HOA nearly $2,000. The attendees donated cleaning supplies, pressure washers and a sump pump.

"I was amazed at the different talents and abilities that we have in the neighborhood. When we would come to a problem, there seemed to be a resident that would step-up and be able to fix our dilemma," said Dukes, HOA president. He added that several residents paid for things out of their own pocket. "I think this shows what a good neighborhood we have and how everyone is doing this to make this a great place to live."

Dukes, who works at Wheeler Funeral Home, said there are some difficult aspects to running a HOA and neighbors do get upset. He said he just tries to stay calm and talk through any issues.

"He listens and he’s honest and fair," Cash said. "He’s just what we needed."

Dukes said the group is planning to have a Memorial Day party and they hope the pool will be fixed and open by Monday. The HOA is also holding a neighborhood yard sale in later June. Residents will donate items and all proceeds will go to the HOA to help with maintenance costs. As of last week, the HOA had only $15,000 to last for the rest of the year.

One of the HOA’s goals is to fill up the remaining homes; Dukes said he believes the four partially completed homes are for sale from the FDIC and there are four additional completed homes also for sale. Dukes said two potential buyers have recently expressed interest and he heard they had good things to say.

As for the future of the neighborhood, as far as he knows, Dukes said that White still owns several lots and homes, and the FDIC is in control of most of what would be the second and third phases. However, because the HOA controls the covenants they will be able to dictate home-building standards and make sure they have a say in the neighborhood’s future. Future amenities like a playground and walking trail are still likely years away.

Most importantly, the residents hope to continue building community. They held some neighborhood get-togethers last year and the board members hope to have more ice cream socials, cookouts and other events in 2010.

"It was frustrating before. You get concerned about your investment," Cash said. "But it’s been such a positive transition. I know so many more people and have so many more friends. I feel we can make things happen now."


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