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Friday, August 26, 2016

Out of the Blue—A Life-Changing Phone Call

By Linda Lovely
It’s been 16 years since we built a lake house on a gorgeous peninsula. When we moved to Upstate South Carolina, our neighborhood boasted more trees than people. Quiet. Only one road in—a two-lane with barely enough room for two SUVs to squeeze past each other. We had a volunteer fire department. No sewers, only backyard septic systems. The shoreline had more undeveloped land than lots with houses. The homes were almost all single-family.
Move forward six years. Still more trees than people, but the lake experienced a building boom. Property values skyrocketed.  As president of our 118-lot homeowner association, I received a call from a developer. The stranger claimed he had all the approvals needed (county, sewer authority, etc.) to build a high-rise project with 360 units on 18 acres on our narrow peninsula. He said there wasn’t a thing we could do to stop him. The man was beyond arrogant. So, why did he call? Mr. Arrogant wanted to know if we’d sell some of our  common community space. The answer was no. Our covenants made this virtually impossible, even if we’d been interested.
I was dumbfounded, and the more I learned about the development the more alarmed and outraged I became. There was no infrastructure (roads, sewer, water, fire/safety) in place to support his project. The six proposed 13-story high rises would have towered over the trees and totally transformed the lake’s shoreline and ambiance while posing potential environmental and safety problems. Authorities had little more than promises the developer would live up to his assurances of future financial contributions.
What happened? I helped establish a nonprofit organization, Advocates for Quality Development (AQD), Inc. Its mission was (and is) rational land planning in our county. At the time AQD was formed, the county had no zoning regulations or land planning effort.
How did this impact my life? I can’t count the hours I spent attending meetings of County Council, Planning Commission, DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control), the sewer commission, etc. Thousands more hours were spent on legal strategies, fund raising, public relations, member communications, and research on how other counties approach land planning and zoning.
Yes, I wish I’d had all those hours to spend on fiction writing—or simply enjoying the lake and hiking in the woods. But I’m proud of AQD’s accomplishments. Being part of this organization also proved to be a personal growth experience. Best of all, I met an eclectic group of intelligent, funny and talented citizens I now consider good friends—people I  probably would not have met without the controversy.
The personalities I encountered (good, bad and nasty) during my work with AQD have provided great fodder for fictional characters. 
Oh, I should also mention the developer went bankrupt, our peninsula is still free of high rises, and our county now has zoning regulations and a start on land planning.
When bad news comes out of the blue, it’s not always possible to see a silver lining. But you never know what may happen if you don’t give up.

What unpleasant surprises have made you angry enough to fight for change?

7 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Good for you! I was Treasurer of a Home Owners Association, a requirement for the developer to put roads, water, sewer, etc. in so lots could be sold. It was not fun. No one wanted to pay their dues because they hadn't built on the lot! Lot sold and now when I'm in the area (this was on a hill at the Oregon Coast), no one has bothered to change the security gate code and the road is deteriorating. I'm fairly sure they never kept the insurance up so when someone gets hurt --- well, let's just say while I love and still love the view, the liability? not so much.

Linda Lovely said...

Judith, I share your angst. Property ownership seemed so trouble free when I was growing up in a small town. Now? Everything's complicated. And, while HOAs have their merits, the fights can be personal and vicious. A theme for an upcoming mystery!

Judith Ashley said...

Murder? I'm sure some of the HOA members wanted to kill me. I know that thought crossed my mind more than once. Well, not actually how to kill them but that my life would be soooo much easier without them around.

Linda Lovely said...

Judith, you made me laugh! I must admit I have murdered HOA idiots (on paper, of course, and only I know who they are). Very cathartic.

Sarah Raplee said...

Unpleasant surprises? Call me cynical, but not much surprises me any more. Your post made me realize I need to shake off apathy and look for a cause. We can all make a difference in our locality!

Diane Burton said...

What a timely blog. Three years ago, we built in a partially-completed subdivision. This summer has been brutal on a pond that 20+ homeowners live around. It's never been this scummy. Some homeowners called the builder repeatedly about doing more than the once/month treatments. Since all the lots have been built, he's tossing it back in our laps. So we've been having meetings to figure out how to go about setting up an HOA and how to pay for pond treatments, etc. The good news is that Hubs and I are meeting more of our neighbors and we all seem to be in agreement that we need to do something.

I'm glad you persisted in keeping your property and view beautiful. I was thinking about how much time your project took away from writing. But some things are worth the time and effort.

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks, Diane for writing. Even if we didn't win, I figured things should change so someone else wasn't put in this position. I'd suggest you use the media. If the builder is still trying to make a living in your community, he may belp to mitigate the bad PR. Do research on him and what other groups have done in your state when faced with similar problems. Contact your state health department to request testing of the water for possible health problems. Good luck!