Residents in two Long County neighborhoods are frustrated with developers and county officials over what they see as a failure to take responsibility to fix road, drainage and lighting issues.
"We are a great community with beautiful homes, but our neighborhood is deteriorating," said Bradley Haliday, who lives in the Crawford at Doctors Creek subdivision, about four miles northeast Ludowici. "We (have encountered) a road block getting things repaired and are in dire need of help."
He said the neighborhood of about 145 homes floods easily when it rains. There are large potholes, he added, and stop signs and manhole covers are missing. There are also no street lights.
About seven miles to the northeast, near the Liberty County line, Ty Boughter describes a similar situation in the Burnt Pines subdivision.
"We are now unable to drive down our street because a pothole is so bad that it covers the entire road," Boughter said. "Several of the residents have busted tires and have had their mailboxes hit and knocked down (when cars try to go around the pothole). Flooding is bad and gets as high as two feet. We have no street lights or ‘slow children at play’ signs."
Burnt Pines has approximately 75-80 homes, according to Boughter.
Both neighborhoods were completed about 2008 by different developers: Crawford by Provident Construction/Georgia Coastal Land Clearing, whose owner William Nutting occupies an office just five minutes away, and Burnt Pines by Dennis Waters, the owner of Dennis Waters Rental Properties in nearby Allenhurst.
Both Haliday and Boughter claim each developer has been unresponsive to their needs and they feel that Long County officials have not done enough to help.
Mike Riddle, Long County Commission chairman, said officials are doing everything under the law to help. The problem is that both developments are private property, and still the responsibility of the developers.
According to provisions in the county code — which is available online at www.longcountyboc.com/code-enforcement.html) — upon completion of a subdivision, developers may petition the county after two years to assume responsibility of roads and drainage. At that time, the county sends a code enforcement officer to check the site. If there are no "deficiencies" the county would get a signed letter stating everything is in compliance. Commissioners would vote whether to accept the development.
In the case of the Crawford neighborhood, Riddle acknowledges that Nutting requested the ownership change, but the code officer observed several "deficiencies" that need to be corrected before the county can proceed.
Riddle has made two attempts — by certified mail — to contact Nutting, stating what needs to be done before the county is able to consider ownership. The letters, which were sent on Feb. 1 and April 11, detailed the repairs and/or cleaning of drains, ditches, manholes and potholes.
The county has not heard back from Nutting, Riddle said.
Nutting said he’s done nothing wrong.
"We built to code and had engineers approve everything," he said.
As to the concerns by residents, Nutting said, "We have cut grass and cleaned drains and have done things above and beyond our responsibility. These citizens pay taxes to the county and I understand why (they) are upset about nothing being done."
Regarding the letters sent by the county, Nutting said "I stand willing and ready to work with anyone. I’m willing to meet with them today."
When told of Nutting’s response and invitation to meet, Riddle reiterated, "We have been clear with him on what needs to be done. We have contacted him twice through certified mail to make sure he received them. The county can’t do anything until the corrections are made."
Riddle added, "I feel for the homeowners. We’re trying to find a way to get in there, but until our attorney advises us to do it, I’m not going to go for it."
Responding to accusations that the county simply doesn’t want to get involved and take ownership of subdivisions, Riddle emphasized that the Belfair and BriarCrest developments are examples of two sites that met all of the conditions outlined under county code and were subsequently taken over.
The situation with Burnt Pines is different than the others. Developer Waters has never attempted to seek county ownership, according to County Administrator Frank Etheridge. That means the county cannot intervene.
Waters could not be reached for comment.
"I have walked the site (for Burnt Pines) and basic things need to be done," Etheridge said. In addition, "The final plat was never developed or recorded at the courthouse." A plat is a map, drawn to scale, showing the divisions of a piece of land.
A discussion of both neighborhoods was brought up at the Aug. 3 commission meeting when Commissioner Clifton DeLoach, citing safety concerns caused by flooded streets in the Burnt Pines and Crawford subdivisions, moved that the county take responsibility.
"This is our fault, we should accept them," DeLoach said at the time. "We let the subdivisions slip by us. These developers come in here and build subdivisions and walk away and leave us with problems."
County Attorney James Smith agreed that "at some point in the past the county messed up" but said he was concerned about the precedent that would be set now by county action.
DeLoach moved for the county to adopt ownership of the two subdivisions, but no second was given, so no action was taken.
Riddle still hopes Nutting will fix the problems, and that Waters will petition the county for ownership if that’s what he wants. There is also the option of civil action between the residents and the developers, as well.
Boughter and Haliday say they are caught in the middle. They don’t feel their neighborhoods have the economic resources to sue.
"We don’t have a homeowners association, but we are looking at forming one very soon," Boughter said. "We, the residents, just want someone to assume responsibility and make repairs and to make repairs the right way … not just by throwing white rocks in a hole just to have them wash away when the next rain storm comes."
Nearly 100 residents of Burnt Pines have signed a petition seeking help. Boughter said he is contacting state officials, all the way to the governor’s office.
In Crawford, "neighbors have attempted to at least fill the potholes ourselves, but of course they don’t last, as cement will not stand up to the heavy traffic use," Haliday said.
"It is very important that we get these concerns addressed because, first, it is a safety issue, and second, a lot of us are military and it will drastically affect the property value and resale of our homes, when our duty assignment changes."