PTC residents share ‘private street’ plight
City won’t consider maintaining them unless all right-of-way is donated
More than two dozen subdivisions and condominiums in Peachtree City were built without the streets being dedicated to the city, leaving homeowners on the hook for street improvements and repaving.
At a City Council workshop Tuesday night, it was explained that the “private street” approach was adopted by developers to either avoid the expense of building the streets to city specifications and/or to allow more units in the subdivision.
The catch is that the homeowners are now facing streets needing repairs, with potential bills running well over $100,000 in some instances. And the residents living on those streets insist they’ve paid as much in taxes as those who live on publicly maintained streets, so why can’t the city help them out?
But as with any thorny issue involving city government, the answer isn’t that simple. The city needs 50 feet of right-of-way so they can maintain not just the 22-foot wide street, but also the storm drainage system and of course keep appropriate traffic signs installed and the like. Furthermore, some private streets lack the necessary curb
and gutter system to remove stormwater, said City Engineer David Borkowski.
Applying the 50-foot right-of-way to the smaller streets will also affect the setbacks for each lot, which in some cases at least would extend past the existing homes, making them non-conforming under the city’s zoning law, Borkowski said.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle, however, is the necessity for all of the subdivision’s owners to agree to donate the portion of right-of-way on their individual parcel. In the end, this will be the first hurdle homeowner’s associations will have to meet before the city begins to investigate the potential costs and ramifications of assuming maintenance.
There was talk of having city staff evaluate all private streets for potential cost and other hurdles, but that was squashed after it became apparent that the city can’t move forward on any proposal without 100 percent of property owners agreeing to donate their share of the right-of-way.
Without the right-of-way, each property owner has the right to kick city staff off his or her property, residents were told. When that statement was challenged, City Manager Jim Pennington noted that such an incident happened earlier that same day.
Councilwoman Kim Learnard pointed out that staff time is precious, so she didn’t like the idea of spending it on matters that aren’t likely to come to fruition.
There was some sympathy for the plight of those on private streets. About two dozen residents attended the meeting from six different subdivisions. Several of them said they were not told at the time of purchasing their home that the streets were private.
In addition to the maintenance issue, there are several other ramifications to living on a private street. In some cases, the streets are too small for fire trucks, which have difficulty turning, said Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth. The fire department has worked with those subdivisions and in some cases has asked residents not to park on certain streets to leave a wide enough path for emergency vehicles, Eiswerth said.
The police department cannot enforce certain traffic laws, including speeding, on private streets, said Police Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark. That can change somewhat if an agreement is reached to allow such enforcement, but that would not cover all traffic violations, he added.
One routine comment from several residents dealt with the theory that if they paid the same taxes as other residents living on public streets, they should receive the same street repair and paving services.
Councilman Eric Imker offered a “devil’s advocate” theory, operating on the premise that residents living on private streets paid less for their home price initially, and also over time in taxes compared to people who own homes on public streets.
“You’ll have to prove that,” said one upset audience member.
Imker also urged residents to get themselves up to speed on lawsuits that have successfully been filed to force a government to assume maintenance on private streets “if you intend to go that far.”
However, Imker noted that citizens living on private streets will expect the city council to avoid spending, for example, $20 million to help out homeowners associations with private streets “because they knew what they were getting into.”
Although homeowners associations have been charging dues and accruing money over a period of years to fund street maintenance, the economy of the past few years has resulted in some homeowners failing to pay their dues, several residents said. And that has only added to the challenge of collecting the necessary funds for street repairs.
City public works staff can help homeowners associations by sharing how the city uses bids to solicit contractors for its street repaving projects, according to Public Works Director Mark Caspar.