Experts Panel

The Role of Municipalities

The planning boards of cities and towns, working closely in concert with developers, approve residential private road developments that do not meet the same design and construction standards as residential public roads. After the private road development has been completed by the developer, there is a sequence of events that typically follows.

 

The Homeowner Association is turned over to the Homeowners near the end of the project. Within a year or two of taking over the Association, the HOA will hire a consulting company to do a “Reserve Study”.  That is when the reality hits.  They become aware that if they want to do the right thing, they need to start putting away lots of money for maintenance and repairs of their development. Some developers contribute seed money to a Capital Reserve Fund, intended to be used for maintenance of roads, sewer and common lands, but some do not.  There is no statute requiring developers to set up Reserve Funds nor is there a requirement for developers to contribute to them.

 

Next, the Association will call a meeting with City Officials about what it would take to get the City to take over the roads. The City Officials will then tell the Homeowner’s Association one or more of the following:

  1. The City agreed with the developer that your development would never become a public road, so you are out of luck.

  2. Your development has sub-standard roads. City plows, garbage trucks etc. may not be able to negotiate your roads, and they will damage your sub-standard roads, and we are not going to put ourselves at risk of liability.

  3. State Statutes prevent us from using public funds on residential private roads.

  4. You can bring the roads up to city standards (at your own cost of course), BUT even with that, City Council can reject the application.  This might not be true for all City and Towns, but in the City of Dover this is absolutely the case.

 

Because the municipalities do not have responsibility for these roads, some of them, especially what we call “legacy” residential private roads, have fallen into disrepair. Many of these are dirt roads. The residents cannot afford to pave the roads, so the situation worsens over time. The substandard roads (even the paved ones) are narrower than roads built to city standards, which sets up the risk of emergency vehicles being unable to pass, and a higher risk of accidents.  Many of these developments do not have sidewalks, so the potential for a car to strike a pedestrian is higher than it would be if sidewalks were required when the development was built.  The lighting is also substandard, making nighttime navigation dangerous.  The fact that many of these developments are 55+ communities further exacerbates the problem of safety concerns for private road communities.  

 

Through deliberate policy and practice, municipalities deny private road property owners’ access to the same fundamental services provided to property owners on residential public roads. In addition, municipalities deny private road property owners’ the same level of safety and reliability of comparable public roads. Notwithstanding these inequities, municipalities collect taxes from private road owners at the same rates and in the same manner as they do from public road property owners.

 

Developer’s maximize land use by clustering homes in these developments which help maximize the developer’s profit and compromise the quality and safety of the roads in those private communities. The municipalities get increased tax revenue without the responsibility and liability associated with taking care of the roads and in some cases utility infrastructure. Everyone wins except the residential private road taxpayers.  It’s a practice that NHPVRTA believes should not be allowed to continue.