As the grass and weeds grew around the storm water pond at The Greens subdivision, so did the anger of residents.
Many contacted city administrators, complaining about the 4-foot-tall weeds and demandingthat the property owner be ordered to mow the area.
"The pond looks disgraceful," said Dennis Frazier, a Johahn Driveresident and president of the homeowners' association.
Much to their surprise, the residents learned that they own the 3.7-acre parcel, and thus are responsible for maintaining it.
Now the residents are challenging the legality of a December move by the developer -- Peer Construction Co. of Reisterstown, Baltimore County -- to quietly transfer the deed for the parcel from the company to the homeowners' association.
The land was transferred without the knowledge or consent of the association, which must approve all such acquisitions, said Frazier, who presented the residents' complaint before the City Council Monday.
Two questions arise from the dispute. First, did the company have the authority to unilaterally transfer the deed?
The residents don't think so. Company representatives could not be reached for comment last week and did not return phone calls to their office.
Beyond that issue lies the question of whether the city will approve the transfer, a requirement of the public works agreement between the city and the original developer.
"This certainly isn't common," said City Planning Director Thomas Beyard.
An attorney hired by the association is investigating whether the builder had the authority to act alone in transferring the parcel.
When building beginsat a residential subdivision, the developer owns all the property and is, in effect, the homeowners' association, Beyard said. As people buy homes and begin to move in, control of the association gradually shifts to the residents.
Frazier said a majority of the association must vote to accept a property transfer. But when the transfer was conducted last December, the builder acted as both the giver and the receiver of the land.
Regardless of how that dispute comes out, city administrators will be paying close attention, because the city ultimately will take over area maintenance, Beyard said.
The builderis bound to a public works agreement with the city, signed when the original builder began construction of The Greens in the early 1970s.The agreement states that property can be transferred only to a recipient who can afford to maintain it, and only with city approval.
Frazier said the association hardly can afford to enter the business of property management.
The association operates with about $12,000 each year from $20 annual dues payment from most of the more than 700 homes in The Greens. After paying for mowing and maintenance on about 20 other acres the association owns, about $1,000 is left over.
Maintaining and upgrading the ground around the storm water pond, in addition to completing work on other tracts turned over to the association, could cost the homeowners' group as much as $8,000 over the next four years, Frazier said.
Additionally, the owner of such property must set aside 10 years' worth of maintenance fees before the city will take over the tract. In this case, that could reach some $75,000, well beyond the association's means, Frazier said.
"There's no way the association can do that," he said.
For now, the association, as legal owner of the parcel, is responsible for its upkeep. The city stepped in and mowed the parcel recently, at a cost of $500. Abill was drawn up for the association, but administrators have assured the association it won't be required to pay it -- or subsequent bills -- until the matter is resolved.