The pecan trees that line the roads in Gilbert’s Park Grove Estates are nearly 100 years old and create an ambience that’s attractive to home buyers. But many residents who have moved to the nongated neighborhood built in 1984 didn’t realize that the roads — made narrower to save the trees — didn’t meet town codes and had to be made private by the developer.
Now, the 60 homeowners are having to pay about $1,800 each to resurface the aged, cracked and crumbling roads that homeowners association president John Sentz said are often used by drivers who don’t live in the community trying to find shortcuts from Lindsay and Elliot roads
"When you buy a house in a new development and you’re signing 500 different items, I don’t think people understand what it means," said Sentz, who also is a member of Gilbert’s Planning Commission.
The association is among the first of a wave of East Valley communities with private roads that will bring unsuspecting homeowners massive repair bills in the next decade or two, Sentz said.
Eighty-five Gilbert homeowner associations have private roads, often gated but also nongated such as Park Grove Estates. Many association neighborhoods in Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Scottsdale also have private roadways that residents are responsible for maintaining, but city officials don’t keep tabs on specific numbers.
Chandler and Mesa officials said many of these communities are not gated, while Tempe and Scottsdale officials said most in their communities are.
There are various reasons why some neighborhood roads are private but a common one is that developers build narrower roads to allow for larger homes or larger lots, municipal officials said. "Generally the reason is to maximize profits," Sentz said.
Stefanie Garcia, Chandler’s neighborhood programs administrator, said it’s generally the older associations that are now dealing with costs of repaving roads — and calling for help.
"You don’t plan for this," she said. "You don’t know when they’re going to start to deteriorate. It all depends on the traffic, the size of cars."
For many homeowners, it comes as a complete surprise.
Dan O’Brien, whose home is on a private street in Mesa’s Las Sendas neighborhood, said he never considered the additional costs with private roads. "A lot of people probably assume the city has to do that . . . I never knew the association had to," he said.
The costs of repair could leave associations charging assessments above and beyond monthly or annual membership fees, which, left unpaid, can put homeownership at risk.
Or, residents running the associations may need to make tough decisions similar to a municipality, deciding which projects, from parks and pools to roads and street lights, to fund — and what to let deteriorate.
More than two years ago, when Vance Thompson moved in to his small, middle-class and nongated ranch-home neighborhood, he didn’t realize his street — with blue telltale street signs — just off 64th Street and Brown Road in Mesa was his to maintain, grease stains and all.
"We’ve got a garbage truck that comes here banging and slamming and pours oil. Buses come through. Mail trucks slamming over our speed bumps," he said. "This isn’t a private road. It’s a public road, but we’re paying for it."
Neighbor Barbara Reimer said the 71 homeowners in the Mesa county island development have paid extra each month to set aside funds for roadwork after learning "the hard way" how difficult a special assessment can be for residents, after the community pool needed major reconstruction a decade ago. Monthly dues rose from $30 to $72.
"We’re trying really hard to have it not happen again," she said.
Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn said he’s concerned if nongated communities are sharing private roads with the public.
"If the public can use the road, then I think the city may have to take on some responsibility," he said. "It comes down to the nature of the development and whether the streets are truly private or quasipublic. The important thing is, we don’t want these kind of surprises."
Paradise Valley residents living in a gated community lobbied last year for a state law that would have allowed homeowner associations to contract with cities and towns for repairs that would be less costly than what they pay on their own.
That bill, sponsored by Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, went nowhere.
Sentz is seeking to form a cooperative among associations that would accomplish a similar goal — sharing costs to make the bill more palatable for individual homeowners.
Newer communities, though, should begin charging additional monthly fees to establish a healthy reserve to cover all major expenses down the road, said Cynthia Dunham, founder of The Leadership Centre, which offers free classes on the topic.
Bob Wallace, property manager for Las Palomas in Scottsdale’s McCormick Ranch, said his association charges residents additional monthly dues to cover biennial $10,000 to $12,000 road repaving, and is also setting aside reserves for major restructuring.
But not all associations know to do that.
Tony Hecht, president of the Groves of Gilbert association, said his community had to approve a special assessment to repair its roads two years ago, but one that residents were allowed to pay over three to four years.
"It was a very, very large expense," he said. "And we found out after the process had started, that there was additional damage that needed to be repaired."
The work in Sentz’s neighborhood would have cost more than twice as much had it not received a good deal from a contractor working on public roads nearby and not chosen the less durable resurfacing work.
To schedule a community class about HOA costs and private roads, contact the The Leadership Centre at www.theleadershipcentre.org or (480) 782-2218