First Ridge subdivision gets repairs Ice, floods, frogs plagued residents


Backhoes and dump trucks awaken homeowners several mornings each week in the First Ridge subdivision of North Laurel.

But these days, the construction noise is a welcome herald of deliverance from plagues of ice, floods and even frogs, which have troubled the 70-townhouse neighborhood for the last seven years.

On Dec. 14, Department of Public Works inspectors hope to declare First Ridge free of the chronic water drainage problems in the subdivision, developed by John W. Steffey, Sr., now a developer in Anne Arundel County.

"It's just been a mess," said John Burke, of Property Management Resources, the company that runs the homeowner's association at First Ridge. "It should have been done seven years ago."

That's when homeowners first started complaining of the problems in their community.

Spring water bubbled up through cracked, unfinished pavement. The storm water management pond wouldn't drain. Water valves to some of the homes leaked.

Then there was the flood-prone parking lot.

"In the winter, it would freeze; in the spring it would flood; and in the summer it grew frogs in there," said Jim Irvin, county public works director.

The situation was especially dangerous in the winter, because parked cars often would slide down the icy, inclined parking lot.

"All the cars would slide together," said Carmen Stinson, president of the homeowners' association, who has lived with the problems for the last four years. "We would pray that the cars wouldn't hit each other."

Leaky valves, drainage problems and parking lot flooding aren't unusual for some new developments, Mr. Irvin said. Developers sometimes leave a project before completing the work.

Local governments, including Howard, typically require developers to take out bonds with insurance companies to cover costs of work that might not get done.

But when the work at First Ridge went unfinished, it took an unusually long time for Howard County to receive some money from the $233,725 bond issued on the First Ridge community.

It wasn't until May 6 -- seven years after the developer left the job incomplete -- that the county settled with International Fidelity Insurance Co., of Newark, N.J., to use about $80,000 of the bond for repairs.

Mr. Burke, of the homeowners' association, blamed the county for failing to put enough pressure on the bonding company, International Fidelity. The county blamed the bonding company for the delay in providing money from the bond.

"It was a headache," said F. Todd Taylor Jr., senior assistant county solicitor. "It was a major headache."

Mr. Steffey, the developer who left the construction work undone, said the final battle "was really a combination of the bonding company and ourselves [First Ridge Limited Partnership] vs. the county."

Mr. Steffey said he had argued that the water problem was caused by runoff from other properties and that it prevented his workers from completing the work. He didn't want to be held responsible for the water problems, he said.

"We actually didn't know where the water was coming from," Mr. Steffey said. "Nobody really knew how to correct it. . . . Thank God, they're getting it done. I thought they would never get anything done."

Last spring, the county and International Fidelity agreed to hire Hatfield's Backhoe and Dedication Service, a Glenelg company that has finished developments in Howard County for the past eight years, to complete the First Ridge community.

On July 12, Hatfield's began fixing the leaks, grading the storm water management pond and replacing the broken pavement.

Most of the water has dried up. In the place of the deepest pool sits a 3-foot-high mound of dirt that construction workers are using to make repairs.

But remnants of the flooding problems remain.

Potholes that dot the parking lot still have one to two inches of water from last week's rain. Repaving of the parking lot starts in two weeks and is the last phase in the project, which is 75 percent complete.

When the parking lot is complete, Mr. Burke said, he will rest easy -- but not before then. He said he doesn't want to see any work left undone. Too many things have gone wrong at First Ridge, he said.

One example is the sign -- with the wrong name -- that sits at the entrance to the community. Although the development is called First Ridge, the sign reads "Pilgrim's Ridge."

"I won't believe it's done until it's done," Mr. Burke said.

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