Cattail Creek suit settled

Sewage smells sparked legal action

May 06, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

The sewage smells have stopped at the upscale Villas at Cattail Creek in Glenwood, and now the litigation that resulted might be over, too.

Howard County government has reached agreement on terms of a settlement with the developers and builders of the community for seniors, which was built with a shared septic system that never worked and was later replaced, according to an announcement.

The developers have also posted a $350,000 performance bond with the county to help guarantee the system will work, and have made other changes to eliminate seasonal odors emanating as recently as last fall from the replacement system. Both developments resulted from separate legal action, county officials said.

"We feel this was a really good settlement," said County Solicitor Margaret Ann Nolan, who filed the suit in September 2008. "We had a very strong case."

After enduring five years of odors and multiple trips daily from septic trucks to haul away sewage, residents of the 25 single-family homes and 68 townhouses will hear details of the agreement May 17 and get to vote on it a week later. If a majority opt to be included and drop their private claims, each property owner would receive $3,803.23 in cash and private sewer fee relief worth another $5,643 over the next 28 years. In addition, the county will receive $43,000 to pay for moving a sewer line and $100,000 to oversee operation of the new sewage treatment facility at the development over the next five years. In total, the settlement is worth about $1 million, county officials said.

Homeowners who paid varying premiums to live in view of a promised golf course that was never built would get a small portion of that money back, too, Nolan said. Those 15 buyers would divide $29,900, she said, though some buyers paid $25,000 or more for the promise of a golf course view.

If a majority of residents don't want to be included in the settlement, the benefits would be much more modest. In that case, the county would still get the $43,000, plus $25,000 in legal costs, and $1,903 for each homeowner who opts in to use in overseeing the new treatment plant's operations. Then the residents' private lawsuit would remain.

"I can live with it," said Renee Parcover, president of the condominium association. "I'm optimistic the community will find it favorable."

Jim Wilding, the association's past president, was more enthusiastic, though he hasn't seen all the details.

"The prospect of getting all this behind us is delightful to me," he said. "l'll have very big eyes and ears for it. If it's at all reasonable to me, I'll be all for it."

The case brought about changes in regulatory controls that now allow county government to oversee such projects. Cattail, which is beyond the reach of public water and sewer systems, could build townhouses only by using a shared septic system, which was built under state regulations.

County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, said the suit showed the county will stand up for residents wronged by developers. Defendants in the suit included NVR Inc., the builder, and local developers Donald Reuwer Jr. and J. Thomas Scrivener, who through their attorney initially described the suit as a "political witch hunt."

"I am pleased that this community now has the fully functioning waste water system it deserves and that our agreement provides residents with financial compensation that will assist them in running that system for years to come," Ulman said in the announcement.

Reuwer said Tuesday that "there's nothing to be gained by being unhappy at this point. Those people need to get on with their lives. It's good that it's over and a shame that it happened." A spokesman for NVR declined to comment, and Scrivener did not return a reporter's call.

But Republican Del. Warren E. Miller, who praised Ulman when the suit was filed, said he believes the settlement doesn't address a variety of issues originally included, such as the transfer of two water wells to the adjoining country club and other issues involving builder Ryan Homes, which is a subsidiary of NVR.

"The main thing is, we'll see if the residents are happy with it," Miller said. "I don't think this alleviates the need to do more."

County Councilman Greg Fox, a Republican who represents the area, said he's glad Nolan "has stayed with this case over time," and he hopes the settlement will satisfy residents.

Nolan said the reason for the suit was "to get comprehensive relief as a whole. I think that is what we accomplished."

The suit alleged that developers consistently misled buyers on a number of fronts, from the nonfunctioning entrance gate to the size of the homes, promises of a 9-hole golf course that was never built and the poorly built septic system that even the developers acknowledged never worked. The new system was under construction when the legal action was filed.

Buyers were promised one-year memberships in the adjoining Cattail Creek Country Club, but weren't told that their own condo association funds were used to pay for the memberships. In addition, the developers allegedly allowed the existing country club golf course next door to siphon off thousands of gallons of water that residents might need for their own wells. Buyers who thought they were getting three- and four-bedroom homes got two bedrooms instead, which the suit contended had been blamed on a nonexistent county law. State sewage regulations on the shared system were the reason for the fewer number of bedrooms.

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