A 3-year-old dispute that left a group of Crofton residents paying taxes without receiving certain services ended this week with a settlement between a developer and the civic association.
Developer Wallace Baker handed over a $1,000 check Wednesday to the Crofton Civic Association, the last obstacle to settling the fight.
"There is no story," Baker said Wednesday. "The agreement was signed today. It was all a miscommunication."
The dispute began in 1987, when Baker's company built the 65-home Crofton Orchards near the intersection of routes 450 and 424. Before people moved in, the County Council voted to let the community join the Crofton Civic Association.
But before Crofton would accept the development, it placed conditions on Baker -- conditions Town Manager Jordan Harding says were necessary to ensure roads, sidewalks and the development's storm water management pond met quality standards.
Before the final agreement was signed, Crofton had no legal authority to enforce covenants -- such as citing a homeowner for erecting a satellite dish -- and couldn't mow grass in common areas or even repaint the iron gate at the entrance.
Just the same, residents had to pay taxes -- between $270 and $300 a year -- to the special tax district, which operates a $500,000 budget and oversees a five-member police force. Crofton police did patrol the community, however.
"You people are paying tax money, and you ought to be able to get something for it," Harding told a contingent of residents who showed up at Monday's board meeting.
"We are being held hostage between the developer and the civic association," resident Marie Curan said. "Everyone, for the most part, keeps their property up. I hate to see this place turn into anything but special because we have covenant violations and nobody to enforce them."
Baker says he couldn't meet all of Crofton's conditions until this spring because the county wouldn't release control of the storm water management pond due to technical changes in grading.
But the developer also said the conditions should not have prevented Crofton from signing the agreement and taking control of the Crofton Orchards covenants.
"They didn't have to link those things together," he said. "We were dealing with three different boards, each one with different qualifications. It seems like we've had to start from scratch each time."
The final delay came when attorneys started talking about the $1,000 check. Harding said the money is standard procedure whencovenants are transferred. The money is used by the community to cover costs in picking up enforcement action started by the developer.
But Harding said Baker wanted legal wording included in the agreement protecting him from costs the Crofton Civic Association may incur in following up covenant violations Baker had started to enforce. "They could have had covenant enforcement last summer," Baker said. "I've had the check in my pocket."
Civic association board members on Monday said $1,000 isn't enough because at least five serious violations have accumulated during the last three years and court fights arepossible on all of them. Fearing further delays, board members agreed to accept Baker's check.
Baker said he knows of only three outstanding covenant violations; he said he had taken one violator to court -- and won -- and the other two "are questionable." Residents say Baker has done little enforcement on his own.
After Monday's discussion, the civic association voted unanimously to take Baker to court if the agreement wasn't signed by next Thursday.
"We've been PO'd for years," Walter Curan, a Crofton Orchardsresident, who urged the board to take court action. "We might as well go after him."
Two days later, Crofton had its check.
Harding, who assured residents onMonday that an agreement was imminent, called the dispute "pure legalese," telling residents he was dismayed it had taken so long to achieve.
"I hope the residents are happy," Harding said after receiving the check Wednesday, adding that he will start vigorously enforcingcovenants, planting flowers and doing other general maintenance thatcouldn't be done before.