A new dispute has arisen within the Cody Ranchettes Homeowners Association subdivision, this time regarding a road surface.
A divide is splitting homeowners, with some supporting and others opposing a road paving project on the gravel Rolling Hills Drive, as well as Tanager and Partridge lanes. The project has brought with it a roughly $5,000 flat cost expected to be paid in full immediately by homeowners, without any payment plan options available. No matter where a resident lives in the subdivision and how much of the road they use, they must pay the same cost as everyone else.
“I’m sad about folks being so adversarial about this,” said D.D. Champlin, treasurer for the subdivision board.
The project, which has led to people on both sides blaming newcomers, was voted on by homeowners and passed by one vote.
“I think the road is very important to the half of residents that live at the end of the road,” said resident Tony Castillo, who is opposed to the project.
Keith Seidel, a lifelong Cody resident who lives at the end of the subdivision and would utilize the road more than most, still opposes the project.
“I don’t want a paved road,” he said. “I completely oppose it. Having a gravel road keeps people out of the neighborhood.
“They’re trying to turn it into a city neighborhood with curbs and gutters.”
The work, which went into full force last week, will upgrade the roads from a mixed gravel surface to a full 1.5 inch asphalt paving. Seidel said some recent home buyers were misinformed by their real estate agents who told them the road paving was an already planned project, giving them a false expectation the work would take place. Champlin said prior maintenance costs have usually run between $300-$2,000 and total maintenance costs since the HOA was created have amounted to around $300,000.
Seidel said a widow in the neighborhood had to receive a loan from another neighbor in order to pay her bill.
“It’s terrible, they’ve basically shoved the road down everybody’s throats,” said Castillo, who has to pay around $15,000 because he owns three lots in the subdivision.
HOA manager David Barton refused multiple requests for comment about the work.
“The HOA has tried using strong-arm collection techniques for its legally dubious and questionable assessments, and has once again reverted to silence and obfuscation despite the ‘transparency’ promised by the new management,” said Kelly Hennessy, despite being a supporter of the project.
The work is being classified as a maintenance project rather than capital improvement as many others see it. Multiple sources said they don’t believe the HOA has the authority to assess for capital improvements, and the HOA’s bylaws do not make a single mention of capital improvement projects. A 2/3 member vote is required to override any bylaw.
Some legal studies have addressed this type of contractural issue under the legal term Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius, which means the express mention of an item excludes all others. Not following this rule of contractual construction could lead to egregious stretching of definitions, such as allowing a hazardous waste dump because it is not specifically excluded.
According to the IRS, real property capital improvements can include fixing a defect or design flaw, creating an addition, physical enlargement or expansion, creating an increase in capacity, productivity or efficiency, rebuilding property after the end of its economic useful life, replacing a major component or structural part of the property.
Seidel said the HOA’s leadership told him they had received an opinion letter from a law firm supporting the work, but that letter has never been handed over for the public to view. Some residents speculated this wasn’t handed over because the law firm stated the work does not qualify as a maintenance project.
Castillo, who moved to Cody eight years ago from California, said the behavior of the HOA’s management reminds him of the subdivision culture in that state and Hawaii.
Both sides of the dispute have accused the opposing parties of possessing contentious, newcomer California transplants. Seidel said many of these newcomers drive “fancy cars,” a contrast from the country lifestyle he envisioned when moving to the neighborhood about 15 years ago.
Dues and favors
Under the HOA’s bylaws, if a homeowner does not pay assessed dues within 20 days of being put on notice of delinquency, a lien can be put on their home for the amount said owed.
Seidel said despite receiving this threat he has yet to pay his bill, but wouldn’t have been opposed to the project if the cost were spread out over a much longer period of time.
He accused the HOA of promising favors in return for votes on the project and specifically choosing businesses it had personal relations with to perform the work in a closed bidding process. In an email from Stuart Frost, owner of Mountain Construction, sent on Sept. 13, Frost asked Barton for a list of “people that appreciate what we’re doing here” in order to reward them with a free extension to the entrance of their driveways.
“They’re a bunch of crooks, that’s how things are done in a big city,” Seidel said. “They grease everybody’s palm.”
In another email sent to Barton, one homeowner complained they were misled about the nature of the project and thought the work would only consist of chip sealing. Hennessy said this change occurred in the “11th hour” and was a result of the subdivision getting a deal on asphalt for the same price as only performing chip sealing on the project.
Champlin said Mountain Construction, the contractor on the project, is providing the work as an act of “community service” and is not making a profit on the $191,000 job.
“We’re just blown away by their generosity,” she said. “We’re so grateful for Mountain Construction.”
The work passed with a 19-18 vote thanks to the use of a few proxy votes, a practice allowed under the HOA’s bylaws.
Castillo said while counting the votes, it was discovered that Barton had “accidentally” voted twice in addition to another extra vote that was also received. Those votes were removed before the final tally.
Hennessy, who previously engaged with the HOA leadership over a house paint dispute in 2019, supports the road work and believes the project will raise home values in the neighborhood. Champlin said nine different real estate agents she called before the project verified the project will raise home values.
Still, Hennessy said he isn’t “enamored” with the subdivision’s culture.
“This place has been ‘fraught’ for many parties from the get-go,” Hennessy wrote in an email. “ Every day seems like ‘Groundhog Day all over again’ in this nuthouse.”
Back at the Ranchettes, work on the project started picking up significant steam last week with nearly a dozen vehicles on-hand paving the roads, Hennessy said.
He said the work includes a correction to the road’s camber, and should not need any maintenance for 8-10 years.
“We voted for the project because we were (tired of) throwing good money after bad doing the same thing year after year,” he said.
Hennessy and Castillo said multiple law firms and one attorney living in the subdivision have gotten involved in the debate, while Seidel said he was considering legal action against the HOA and possibly moving away.
“I’ve had it with these neighbors,” he said. “I don’t want to live here.”