Beachside I Homeowners Association, a nearly 30-year-old townhome community, is located in Minnetonka on Shady Oak Road just north of Highway 62. When driving through the 168-unit property, one notices Beachside I’s individualized feel. The buildings vary in color and landscaping styles range from a simple rocked bed to an elaborate design with a water feature. Each homeowner owns his or her lot – a rare feature in townhome communities. The governing documents permit a homeowner to uniquely landscape and, if space permits, to construct an addition to the townhome.
This beautiful community, like any other, is not without its share of problems. However, it’s how a board addresses these issues, with the support of homeowners, that distinguishes it from other boards. During its three years together, the current board has finished the final year of a three-year vinyl siding effort, obtained homeowner approval for updating governing documents, rewritten the rules and regulations, and started the replacement of driveways.
For many years, boards had to prioritize critical repairs because the association was underfunded. In June 2002, the Board came to the realization that a special assessment was needed to bring the property to a certain level of quality. A list of projects and estimated costs was drafted and sent out to the homeowners. The purpose was to give the homeowners an opportunity to prioritize the repairs as well as to weigh the costs and benefits. From the responses, the Board decided that the driveways would use half of the special assessment funds and the remaining half would support items like roof replacement, cedar siding repairs, and returning to a regular painting cycle. In October 2002, a homeowner vote passed the special assessment to complete a specified list of projects. The special assessment called for a homeowner to pay $6,345, which could be paid in full or in three annual installments of $2,115.
However, a group of homeowners challenged the direction of the project, suggesting that the funds could support applying vinyl siding to all 42 buildings, replacing all 46 driveways, and completing other needed repairs in four years. Homeowners supported this vision and voted for a leadership change to the Board of Directors. While the vinyl siding and building repairs were completed by the fall of 2005, it left the Association with a beautiful exterior and an empty pocketbook. The special assessment funds had been spent and the reserve fund was nearly depleted. No driveways had been replaced and patching for many was no longer an option. The Board supported taking out a long-term loan to complete all driveway replacements and other property improvements but was unable to garner homeowner backing. An aggressive election campaign followed with a return to fiscal responsibility.
Two new board members were elected in May 2005. The Board President resigned, leaving two seats to fill by appointment. The positions were filled within a month and the new Board got going. The vinyl siding project was completed and the budget was designed to rebuild the reserve fund. A project this ambitious new board tackled was completing the update of the governing documents. This effort had been started several years previous and was close to completion in 2003. The previous board had focused on vinyl siding and did not present the documents to the homeowners until November 2004. Homeowners were dissatisfied with the proposed documents and requested additional meetings. The Board did not follow up and the effort lost momentum. After the current board took office, it held more meetings with homeowners to review the documents, discuss questions and suggestions, and make any final updates. Next, homeowner signatures were needed for passage so the Board announced a sign-off weekend. This “lemonade stand” concept was set up at the entrance to the property, making it convenient for homeowners to approve the documents without leaving their cars or attending another meeting. In less than two weeks, the Board collected the required number of homeowner signatures to approve the documents update.
With limited funding available, the Board researched several financing options for driveway replacement and scheduled a meeting to discuss them with homeowners. In January 2006, the board presented four payment options for the driveways. A bank loan, escalation of monthly dues ($100 per month for 20 months), a special assessment, and “pay as we go” were all discussed. Each option was explained along with the pros and cons involved. Homeowners voiced their opinions with almost all supporting the use of current funding and phasing the work over several years. This option would slowly grow the reserve fund while completing several driveways every year.
The driveway replacement project began in earnest in the spring of 2006. The board hired an engineering firm to recommend driveway specifications, interview asphalt vendors, handle the bidding process, negotiate the contract and supervise the demolition and repaving process.
The demolition phase is an eye-opening experience. It was amazing how quickly the old material was removed. But opening up the driveways uncovered some “issues.” The cap blocks were exposed and found to be in worse shape than the board had anticipated, with many being completely eroded. Cap blocks form the support at the front edge of the garage concrete slab. Drain tile and extra sand cushion were needed on some driveways. The decision to add these options was made after a driveway had been completely torn out. Some utility lines (gas, electric, phone, cable, etc) not buried at the expected depth were hit. The asphalt contractor promptly contacted the utility companies to make repairs.
Communication between the contractors, board members, the property manager and homeowners has been critical to the success of this project. Status updates on the driveway project were in the association newsletter and detailed communication was provided to any homeowner whose driveway was being replaced. If unforeseen problems arose, the Board contacted homeowners quickly. Two Board members were heavily involved throughout the project and it provided a tremendous learning experience for them. The asphalt site manager and staff explained concepts, procedures and techniques and were glad to have supportive representatives from the community.
One unexpected interruption occurred during an overnight storm. Recycling bins placed at the street for the next day’s pick-up were overturned and the contents blew in the street. Storm drains at the lowest point of the property were blocked with recycling debris, causing water to flood the street and rise up the yards toward the buildings. Fortunately, a homeowner (a firefighter who was leaving his home to answer a call) saw the flooding and cleared the drains. A few cars that normally should be parked off the street incurred water damage.
One driveway requiring drain tile did not get filled with sand cushion and aggregate before the rain came. A few days were needed to dry out the mud hole previously know as a driveway. However, Mother Nature did not cooperate – the property continued to receive rain every few days for two weeks. Four addresses were affected by this delay. Homeowners were unable to use the driveway and invented creative alternatives to reach their homes. The homeowners were very understanding of the situation.
The project had been re-bid each year to receive the best price for the highest quality of work. This project has reinforced the board’s philosophy to budget for the unexpected and not to be overly aggressive. Funds supported replacing eight driveways in 2006. Because budgeted funds were not used for roof replacement, 18 driveways were replaced in two phases last year. Of the 46 total driveways, 20 remain to be completed. The project is on target for completion in 2009, just in time to free up funds for a roofing cycle. The Board’s next goal is to generate homeowner interest to improve individual landscapes. This will improve curb appeal, which leads to desirability, and increased property value. The Board believes all homeowners should be informed about the decisions the Board is making. The Board’s perseverance to implement the driveway replacement project, alongside additional projects, is commendable. The Beachside I neighborhood has been significantly improved because of this strong volunteer involvement and pride in the community.