Developer Left Them In A Fix, Lower Gwynedd Residents Say

Posted: January 24, 1988

Steve Carbaugh knew that when he plunked down about $200,000 in 1986 for his dream home in Gwyn Ayre, a spanking-new Lower Gwynedd development, it would take some time getting used to.

There would be the cracks in the windows, the lumps in the linoleum, the creaks and squeaks in the stairway - expected imperfections.

But what Carbaugh didn't expect was that there would be a thin river coursing through his back yard when it rained or when snow melted.

Carbaugh wasn't alone.

That unexpected problem and a number of others are what 22 homeowners of Gwyn Ayre are trying to have the David Cutler Group fix.

Cutler, the developer of Gwyn Ayre, has said the responsibility lies with the residents, and that they knew that when they signed the settlement papers and got the bylaws of the Gwyn Ayre Homeowners Association.

"The bottom line, in our opinion, is that I provided them with 200 pages of documents explaining their responsibilities," said Cutler. "I mean, there it is in black and white."

The residents, however, view the situation differently.

"What strikes me as an analogy is that famous diamond salesman in Philadelphia," said Charles Barr, the spokesman for the residents. "You might have thought you were getting a lot more product and getting a real good bargain for that price, and when you find out that you didn't, well, you're pretty upset."

Barr, a lawyer, and the other residents said that they had no idea until it was too late what the Gwyn Ayre Homeowners Association's responsibilities were: repairing their roads and sewers and installing curbs and sidewalks. Furthermore, Barr said, they never had been given copies of the bylaws for the organization.

The residents said that until they found their front lawns flooded, or their back yards with rivers of storm water running through them, the complaints with their properties had been minor, and that Cutler had cooperated with them.

They also acknowledged that Cutler probably had spent a lot of money for additional sewer inlets on one cul-de-sac street. (Cutler said the inlets had cost him $100,000).

But the residents said that when they took a closer look at how to get the other problems solved - getting curbs on the streets, dedicating the streets as public and repairing other drainage problems - they found that all the little things that were going wrong were snowballing into much larger disputes with the developer.

In addition, they viewed the walking trail that was planned just beyond their back yards as an invasion of privacy. They said nobody had told them about the trail until after they had signed the settlement papers. Barr said that the only path the residents had known was going to be in their back yards was one for horses - not people.

The residents said there apparently was little they could do to force Cutler to rectify the problems since he held the majority of votes in their homeowners association and therefore had final say over how each of their $750 deposits for the association could be spent.

But Cutler said the complaints - particularly Barr's - were sour grapes. He said that anyone making "the biggest investment of their lives" should check documentation defining homeowner responsibilities.

Barr said, however, that the papers he put his signature on contain a lot less detail than Cutler says they do.

"There's nothing about horse trails, nothing about easements - not a single damn thing he's talking about," said Barr. "I've never seen anyone come home with a hernia while taking their Cutler documents home at closing."

Cutler said that if the residents were dissatisfied with the documentation, they could have gone to the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown to verify title, covenant, deed and homeowners association obligations.

Barr disagreed:

"I don't know of any duty on the part of the homeowner, when he's in a sales office being told certain things that are untruthful, and then having to go do things to verify what you were told and not told."

Cutler said that copies of the blueprints - subdivision and landscaping

plans detailing where the streets and sewers would be and who would own them - were hanging up in the real-estate broker's office, in plain view, for all to see.

"That's an absolute, boldfaced untruth," responded Barr.

The dispute also involves the Lower Gwynedd Board of Supervisors.

In 1982, board members rejected plans for the development, which was proposed by a different group, that of the Berwind Realty Co., trading as Provincial Properties.

According to township manager Paul Janssen, Provincial wanted to build ''over 600" low-income townhouses on the 100-acre tract that now is Gwyn Ayre.

The supervisors rejected the plan, but Provincial took the matter to Montgomery County Court. The court ruled that Provincial could build the project if it scaled down the number of homes on the property. The final, approved plan called for 142 townhouses and 39 single-family homes.

After Provincial had the plan approved, it sold the land to a private party, who then sold it to Cutler.

"I don't know if your beef's with us," Supervisor Kate Harper told the residents at a township meeting two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Cutler has offered to give residents their money back if they are unhappy with the houses he built.

That wasn't good enough for Barr, though.

"You're already months down the road, (the house has) appreciated, you have mortgage commitments, and he expects you to erase all the time, emotion and everything you put into it. And there's no way, in an important, emotional decision like (buying) a home, that you would give it up at the stroke of a pen. That's not a winner."

Township officials said they were examining options for the residents.

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