County road project in Ocean Farms fails in vote

Property owners in the Ocean Farms community overwhelmingly made their voices heard this week concerning a proposed roadway project in their development, and voted down (66 against and 24 in favor) a Sussex County Community Improvement proposal.

Lou Scrivani, a resident who had taken issue with the Ocean Farms property owner’s association’s handling of the county request and proposed plan, said he is pleased with the vote and ready to embark on a plan for road repair that better meets the needs of homeowners.

“I believe the vote to reject the County proposal was the correct approach at this time,” Scrivani said this week.

“There is no question that there are some roads in our development that need work, and our road committee has done an excellent job over the past few years identifying the issue and trying to find a solution,” he said. “The County solution was flawed from the onset and the vote reflected the unaddressed concerns of the homeowners. We will now need to regroup as a community and formulate a plan to address those roads that need repair.”

Homeowner’s association President Jim Harding and Monte Fried, chairman of the Ocean Farms Roads Committee, maintain that all procedures spelled out in county code were followed.

This week, Harding and Fried, in a joint statement said, “The procedures spelled out in Chapter 96 [of County code] were followed from start to finish. Each of the homeowners had the opportunity to vote on the proposed project and, in their collective wisdom, a majority of the homeowners elected not to move forward with the proposed road project, which would have been under the supervision/direction of the County.”

The subdivision is located on Double Bridges Road near South Bethany and has 114 buildable tax parcels and 113 improvements on those parcels. The streets are privately owned, by the Ocean Farms Property Owner Association (POA).

The Sussex County Community Improvement Program, implemented through the County’s Engineering Department, “provides a means for a residential subdivision with privately owned roads, and an established homeowner’s association, to request technical and financial assistance from the County for the construction of roadway pavement and other related improvements.”

Under the program, the County manages a project and puts forth an improvement plan, after receiving a petition with more than half of the property owners within the community making a request to the County.

In January, County Assistant Director of Public Works Patricia L. Deptula reported that the community, through its POA, had made a formal request in February of 2010 to begin a petition process. In March 2010, a meeting was held with the Sussex County Engineering Department, and in May 2010 a preliminary estimate was completed and approved. In September 2010, there were 60 petition signatures, representing 53 percent of the billable properties in the community. (At least 50 percent of property owners must be represented on petition forms, according to code.)

Deptula said that the department had also held a public meeting in conjunction with the POA’s annual meeting on Nov. 13, 2010, and that those present had voted to proceed with the process, using a 10-year time period for financial estimates, at an annual cost of $568.82 per year for 10 years for each eligible property.

It is that vote with which Scrivani had said he takes issue.

“First, at the Nov, 13 meeting, there was not a quorum of homeowners present that can be verified by the attendance. Hence, without a quorum, no binding vote could be taken on anything impacting our community, based on the by-laws of our association,” he said.

“The president of the homeowner’s association was made aware of that at the meeting but decided not to mention that to the county. Secondly, 53 percent of my neighbors did not ask for the project to move forward,” he wrote in a subsequent e-mail to county staff, differentiating between what he said was a vote to further consider the project and one to actually move forward with it.

“The vote taken was whether the payout period should be 10 years or 15 years; 10 years got a majority of the vote. Most at the meeting were under the impression that, based on our association rules, further meetings would be scheduled to discuss the issue, with the understanding the process could be stopped at any time if we decided not to proceed.”

Ocean Farms Property Owner Association President James Harding had said that they only need a quorum when voting on HOA information or on issues involving HOA funds. A quorum would be one-third of the property owners, but because the road improvement project is being done with assistance from the county, he said, Chapter 96 of the county code “supersedes any HOA rules.”

County staff decided to hold the official vote on the project on Feb. 17, despite Scrivani’s objections to how the petition had been made.

“There are always a few people that aren’t satisfied, but 60 homeowners signed a petition this summer,” Harding noted, out of the 114 property owners. “Quite a few people want the roads improved, and the purpose of the [Feb. 17] vote is so people can either vote to have the county improve the roads, or not. That’s what America’s about: freedom of choice.”

This week, he and Fried added, “We anticipate that the HOA intends to explore other road repair options, which many of the homeowners believe will be less costly and less extensive than those suggested by the County.”