The chance to live in what was billed as the county's only gated golf course community for seniors drew eager buyers to bucolic Glenwood over the past five years.
But a lawsuit filed by the county government claims that the developers and builders of the Villas at Cattail Creek misled homebuyers about many aspects of the project.
The suit accuses developers Donald Reuwer Jr. and J. Thomas Scrivener, along with NVR Inc., owner of the builder, Ryan Homes, of deceiving buyers for years. The allegations laid out range from the gate at the entrance, which the county said still doesn't work, to an unbuilt golf course, to a water and sewer system that even the developers acknowledge never functioned properly.
The developers deny the charges and, through their attorney, Robert B. Schulman, called the suit "an absolute political witch hunt." A spokesman for NVR declined to comment.
County Solicitor Margaret Ann Nolan said Schulman's reaction is "absolutely untrue and preposterous," given that the development's sewerage system has not functioned properly in five years. After county lawyers and consumer protection investigators researched the case, the right course was clear, she said.
"The facts are so compelling, how could the county not file suit?" she said.
The county wants to take part in the court-supervised mediation efforts to resolve the dispute that grew from the residents' private lawsuit filed two years ago, Nolan said.
James Wilding, president of the 93-home community's condominium association, said residents are hoping the county can help.
"We're very pleased," he said. "We've been asking the county for several years to get involved."
Building on 58 acres where public water and sewer pipes weren't available, the developers got state permission over local opposition for a shared septic system and wells - the only way they could build townhouses in a rural area. Until state, and later county, legislation passed this year, Howard County officials had no jurisdiction over the unusual sewer system.
But the county says the developers used an old, less costly design and did not install the system properly, while telling buyers that there was no problem with the "state of the art" system despite knowing it was flawed. Meanwhile, the trucks that entered the community daily to haul away sewage were causing damage to the roads that residents likely would have to pay to repair someday.
The developers promised buyers a one-year free membership at the Cattail Creek Country Club next door but didn't say they used condo association funds to pay for the privileges. Some residents paid premiums for homes alongside a nine-hole golf course. But the course has not been built and the premiums have not been returned.
At the same time, the suit alleges that the developers were allowing the neighboring country club to siphon "thousands of gallons" of water from two of the community's four wells to water the course while telling residents that their water shortages and pressure problems were temporary and there was nothing to worry about.
The suit is designed to use the government's powers to aid a private lawsuit the residents filed that is now in mediation. The two principal developers were dropped from that suit, but the county suit puts them back into the case, Nolan said.
The strategy is to help the residents recoup thousands of dollars in expenses and head off future liabilities after years spent enduring up to five noisy visits per day of the trucks that vacuum sewage from tanks and haul it away. The suit also seeks residents' right to sell their homes back for the price they paid, so they can leave if they wish.
Residents say the flaws have made the 25 single-family homes and 68 townhouses unsalable, even before the current housing market slowdown hit, and residents fear they'll see rising expenses for a new septic system the developers are building.
According to the 35-page suit filed last week in county Circuit Court, the developers allowed the country club to siphon off the community's water while telling residents that there was plenty of well capacity and their pressure problems would be resolved. Sewerage problems were temporary, buyers were told.
They told residents who thought they were buying three- and four-bedroom homes that county law limited homes for seniors to two bedrooms and, thus, the homes had to be altered. In reality, the lawsuit alleges, the development's state permit for the shared septic system agreed to by the developers was the reason for the two-bedroom limit. The county has no law limiting the number of bedrooms.
As late as last month, the suit said, county inspectors found that monitoring wells required for testing the treatment system do not exist, meaning another delay of up to a year for testing the new septic system scheduled to be completed by November.
Schulman said the allegations of deceiving buyers and residents are "absolutely denied."
"The county knows it's not true," he said. "We're going to fight this as hard as we can fight it and as far as we can fight it."
Schulman's comments irked Del. Warren E. Miller, a western county Republican who sponsored the state bill enabling the county to gain regulatory control at Cattail Creek.
"It's outrageous when you read through [the suit]," he said. "I think it's stuff that actually happened to people."
Although Miller is often at odds with County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, he credited Ulman's administration for filing the suit in an attempt to help the residents.
"Ken Ulman, [Del. Gail] Bates and I have worked hard to get resolution on this," he said.