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Neighborhood seeks sanitary district status

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Linden Heights may join the growing number of sanitary districts in Warren County.

But Linden Heights homeowners don't plan to go as far as their neighbors in Shenandoah Farms who, with the help of the county, are sharing the cost to improve their roads.

Property owners in the Linden Heights subdivision signed a petition filed recently in Warren County Circuit Court that seeks to create a new sanitary district from their neighborhood of less than 100 homes. The petition comes up for a hearing in the court on Monday.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley informed the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday of the subdivision's intentions. Stanley explained later that the designation of a sanitary district creates a new tax that the county collects in lieu of subdivision fees. These fees would be set after the homeowners association makes a recommendation and the county holds a public hearing, Stanley said.

Linden Heights would become the county's ninth sanitary district. Stanley said he talked with Linden Heights representatives last year about the benefits of creating a sanitary district out of the neighborhood. The district would contain the 96 lots in the subdivision, Stanley said.

Asked whether the county would help maintain the roads on its own or through a cost-sharing program with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Stanley explained that the county would need to discuss the options with the association. Currently seven of the eight districts maintain their own roads.

Ken Mayo, a member of the Linden Heights Property Owners Association Board, explained Tuesday that the neighborhood needs the county's help to collect homeowners' dues.

"We resisted [becoming] a sanitary district for years and years but the county has much more efficient means to collect and enforce payment of the homeowners dues," Mayo said. "We don't have much recourse and the number of people that do not pay -- it's a problem and especially with the tough economic times and such it's gotten much worse. But the county has better means to do this and far better means to enforce it."

As Mayo explained, the county collects the fees through property taxes. Homeowners' dues would be paid through their monthly mortgage payment, Mayo said.

Linden Heights separated themselves from the Shenandoah Farms subdivision about 20 years ago. Shenandoah Farms became a sanitary district and, in recent years, the county helped the subdivision by conducting a study of the roads and drainage needs. The resulting document is being used in conjunction with a capital improvements plan that outlines road and drainage projects for the future. The ultimate goal is to upgrade as many roads in the district to Virginia Department of Transportation standards as possible so the state can take over their maintenance.

"It's a wonderful thing if you can get into it but the cost of doing it is so astronomical because, when the state agrees to take over a section of road, they want you to share -- the county and the residents -- to share in the price of bringing it up to their standards, which are incredibly high," Mayo said.

The petition states that its signers feel the creation of the sanitary district "would set up the mechanism for collecting fees and resolving the poor condition of the roads within the subdivision because of maintenance fee collection issues and the underfunding of the Linden Heights Homeowners Association Inc."

Maintaining Old Linden Road remains a problem for both Linden Heights and Shenandoah Farms with no clear solution. Approximately three-quarters of Old Linden Road lies in Linden Heights. However, Shenandoah Farms, which owns the remaining section, uses the road as an access point for the district, Mayo said. Linden Heights can't keep up with the "inordinate amount of wear and tear" on the road as a result of the extensive use by Shenandoah Farms, Mayo said. But Linden Heights gets blamed for the road's condition, he added. Shenandoah Farms does not help cover the maintenance cost, Mayo said.

Linden Heights has fewer than 100 properties and contains 2 ΒΌ miles of road, Mayo said. Shenandoah Farms has more than 40 miles of road and several hundred properties. Mayo explained that it would take Linden Heights years to collect the amount of fees needed to cover its share of the cost to improve its portion of Old Linden Road.

"By comparison, we could put more money into Old Linden than into the rest of the association [roads] and still not keep up with it," Mayo said. "It's a constant problem. Everyone complains about it."

The problem with Old Linden Road and who spends the money to maintain it has continued for years.

"Hopefully, by working with the county, somewhere, somehow someone will come up with a solution," Mayo said, suggesting that the two neighborhoods could share the cost with the county and state. "That's going to be one less problem for everybody all around."

The neighborhood does not have to become a sanitary district in order for homeowners to participate with the county and VDOT in the rural addition program, Mayo pointed out.

"All in all it is a good thing, I believe, for us," Mayo said. "We had resisted it in the past and a lot of that had to do with some misunderstanding about what the benefits would be."

The state code allows for the creation of sanitary districts. Neighborhoods must submit a petition signed by either 50 qualified voters within the proposed sanitary district. Since fewer than 100 qualified voters live in the Linden Heights subdivision, the petition contains the signatures of more than 50 percent of the qualified voters in the proposed district.

Petitioners seek to create the Linden Heights Sanitary District using the boundaries established in May 1993. The filing in the court shows in the tax maps the boundaries and parcels that would lie inside the proposed sanitary district.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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