Bond reduction raises issues of building quality in Millville

It was a simple enough vote: The Millville Town Council agrees that enough roadway has been completed in Bishop’s Landing that it can release some bond money back to the developer.

But the two-minute vote on June 28 followed an hour of discussion and citizen complaints on June 14, plus subsequent meetings and walk-throughs of the neighborhood.

Dove Barrington Development LLC had requested a reduction of Bond #5040681 to $175,412.50, which equals 125 percent of the cost to complete the improvements, plus $5,000 to replace damaged concrete.

The Town regularly holds such bonds, in case a developer fails to complete certain projects. Money is released back when those roadways are completed to Town standards.

In this case, the bond was for Phase 2 of the community, but citizens had thought it was for Phase 1 and came out in full force to complain about Phase 1, which is still undergoing road repairs, said Deputy Mayor Steve Maneri.

But after seeing Beazer contractors working in Phase 1, residents mistakenly believed that was the issue at hand, said Peter Michel, the first elected resident on the pre-HOA executive board of Bishop’s Landing.

In Phase 2, everything was “just fine,” Michel said. “I made a mistake of the phases. So we had people here talking about this stuff [Phase 1], but we should have been talking about this stuff here [Phase 2] … that’s all done, and that’s done correctly.”

He apologized to the town council, code enforcement official and developer on June 28, thanking the town officials who toured the site with him and another Bishop Landing’s resident.

The initial complaints

That misunderstanding notwithstanding, the conversation that began on June 14 aired issues of concern for Bishop’s residents, who attended that night’s council meeting in large numbers, upset that the Town would return money to Dove Barrington when they had so many complaints about the quality of houses built by Beazer Homes.

Citizens suggested the homes were structurally unsound and that they had noticed issues almost upon moving in.

“Every single-family home has structural issues,” asserted resident Maureen McCollum.

But bonds like this one only cover infrastructure within the Town right-of-way (roadway), such stormwater pipes, sidewalks and asphalt.

None of it impacts the actual homes.

The Town’s role

Town Solicitor Seth Thompson explained the Town’s role in such a situation. Hypothetically, if he hired a bad roofer, he said, he wouldn’t turn to the local government; he would sue the individual roofer.

But citizens have been under the impression that the government is inspecting homes at a higher level. Some people said they felt a lack of trust in Beazer and the Town.

“Certificates-of-occupancy were issued that had no business being issued,” said McCollum, adding that her initial trust in Beazer now leaves a “bad taste” behind. “There is a trust that has been broken.”

Meanwhile, a house’s Town-issued certificate of occupancy is not a warranty. Homeowners shouldn’t just rely on the certificate of occupancy as the end-all, be-all, Thompson said.

“The Town’s role in this is fairly limited. The Town is looking to make sure infrastructure is in place,” Thompson said. “We don’t bond the house. Let’s say you have a leaky roof. The bond isn’t going to cover it. The Town’s role when it offers a certificate-of-occupancy — that’s limited as well.”

There’s a difference between meeting Town standards and meeting buyer expectations.

But homeowners shouldn’t have to go through what Bishop’s residents have endured, the citizens replied.

What should the residents do?

Mayor Robert “Bob” Gordon recommended hiring an attorney if Beazer isn’t responding to documented complaints. When the official homeowner association is turned over to residents, they can hire an attorney or any building inspector on their own.

“I’m sorry there’s so many disgruntled homeowners,” Gordon said, thanking them for their input. “In some cases, the Town, the council does not know unless somebody tells you. It’s very nice to see so many people here for a bond reduction.”

Multiple inspectors see a house before the certificate-of-occupancy is signed.

“Footer inspection, framing inspection, foundation inspection, insulation inspection, electrical inspection twice, plumbing inspection twice and a final inspection is what we do,” said Eric Evans, code-enforcement official.

The State does plumbing inspections, a third party does electric, there may be a soil engineer, a design engineer if Evans sees a problem, plus the builder’s own inspections.

So how might an imperfect house be certified, if so many Bishop’s residents have housing issues?

“It got missed,” Evans said simply. “There’s so much that you can look for, and there’s so much that you can still miss,” especially when honing in on one element, sometimes missing another.

“I’ve talked to multiple people — they’ve had multiple issues with Beazer. I know Beazer’s doing everything possible to go back and correct all the issues,” including possibly more quality control, Evans said.

Evans took exception to the idea that Beazer is building unsafe homes.

“They’re missing some structural items, but ‘unsafe’ is an unfair word,” Evans said.

Getting better

But the neighborhood isn’t complete. Beazer is still building and improving Bishop’s homes, Michel added.

In Phase 1, “Especially these single-families, they found structural problems, like in my house — in the front of my house, wooden floors were separating, stuff like that,” Michel said.

But in the past year, Beazer sent a structural engineer to review homes.

“He found a bunch of stuff wrong. Now he’s gone through all these houses, single-family, and there were 72 of them. And they’re refurbishing all of them,” said Michel, describing the wooden beams added to his own house.

As a Bishop’s resident, Councilman Steve Small recused himself from the 4-0-1 bond vote..