April 02, 2014

Residents don’t want to own Pidel storm pond

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town staff will investigate and look for ways to assist a group of Ospringe residents who feel trapped by owning a share of the storm water pond at the Pidel subdivision.

“We do not want to own sewage works,” said resident George Rigas at the March 18 council meeting, contending the current situation is a mistake and that the Town should “correct the ownership”.

Residents are feeling “handcuffed” if they wish to sell their homes, since potential buyers are not likely to want part ownership of a storm pond, said Rigas, noting that failing to disclose the pond ownership could expose a seller to legal action.

In a written submission, he said the recent discovery of their dilemma had caused “angst and frustration” among homeowners, with 34 of them providing feedback and wanting the Town to correct the situation, and no one expressing interest in owning the pond.

“You’re asking us to perish in these homes,” he told council. “The Town is the rightful owner.”

If the Town takes no action, he suggests it could compromise new development by sending “an unwelcoming message to current and future residents, confusing responsibility, imposing burden and peril, and violating the rights of its taxpayers.”

Councillors want to see the legal opinion that the Town received 10 years ago on the issue, and have staff present them with a selection of options. CAO Kathryn Ironmonger said it could take a couple of months.

“Until such time as this mistake is corrected, the homeowners will hold the Town of Erin responsible for any future liability,” said Rigas.

The issue has arisen now because the Town is about to assume ownership of the roads and other public infrastructure such as the storm water drains, since the builder has completed its required work. 

Pidel sent a letter to residents last November, saying the company would take no responsibility for liability, taxes or maintenance of the pond property after January 1, and that the residents are required, according to their agreements, to form a corporation to deal with the parcel.

The Town has not promised to take ownership of the pond property. It does have an easement that allows it to go onto the property and do any required work, so in effect the Town owns the storm water control function, without owning the land itself. Rigas argues it is one entity, and that it is improper for private citizens to have any ownership of public infrastructure.

“Additional liability exposure would be created if the Town of Erin were to assume ownership,” said Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck.

Mayor Lou Maieron said council needs to understand the costs of assuming ownership and consider whether it is fair for them to covered by the Town.

During planning of the development, which is also known as Madison Lake Estates and Berkeley Estates, the Town decided it did not want to have ownership of the huge central pond because of liability concerns. The pond is part of a stream that drains the area into the Eramosa River.

Van Wyck said that since the Grand River Conservation Authority also did not want to own that parcel of land, Pidel sold it to residents as they bought homes there, in 43 equal shares.

“This mess was not created by the Town,” said Councillor John Brennan. “The developer dumped it on the people who bought the houses.”

Construction of the storm water facility, including enlargement of the existing pond, was approved by the Ministry of the Environment. The shared ownership is outlined in the subdivision agreement with the Town, and the residents’ contracts with Pidel.

Rigas said the lake was part of the marketing of the subdivision, and that residents were not fully aware of what they were buying.

“We knew we were owning part of a lake, but not a sewage works,” he said. 

Pidel Homes President Carm Piccoli was contacted about the situation, but was not available to comment.