Environment and Sports Business

Dispute over retail at Hamilton Proper boils over: Some homeowners bucking HDG Mansur management

August 14, 2006

Tensions between the developer of Hamilton Proper and some of its homeowners spilled into public view at the Fishers Town Council meeting Aug. 7, with the council president becoming so agitated he broke his gavel.

Another councilor, Charles White, opened the meeting by complaining about the council's July 17 decision to reject an application by HDG Mansur, the developer of Hamilton Proper, to build an 11-acre retail project on the periphery of the subdivision.

White had been absent for that vote. The council members present deadlocked 3-3, forcing Clerk-Treasurer Linda Gaye Cordell to break the tie. Her no vote scuttled HDG Mansur's plan to build the project on the southeast corner of 116th Street and Hoosier Road.

HDG had told the town of Fishers that if it approved its retail plan, it would formalize an agreement for a not-for-profit sports organization to play on fields within Hamilton Proper. The 89-year pact would replace an informal arrangement that for years allowed teams to play there.

Some Hamilton Proper residents opposed the retail plan because they worried the agreement for the sports fields would leave homeowners to pay 25 percent of the upkeep costs. Why not, some asked, donate the fields to the town instead?

Now, with the retail project shot down, HDG says the fields will no longer be available for sports teams because it wants to use that land for development.

"Due to heavy equipment and other safety concerns ... ownership believes the fields will not be a suitable environment for children," HDG CEO Harold Garrison said in an e-mail.

Garrison, who lives in Hamilton Proper, said the long-term agreement for the fields had been the town of Fishers' idea, not HDG's. Fishers officials said they asked for the agreement only after the company rejected their request that the land be donated.

At the Aug. 7 meeting, White conceded he hadn't watched the online video of the July meeting, but accused fellow council members of treating HDG less favorably than other developers.

"The dice were thrown and everybody lost," White said.

"If you want the fields available again, then support the Mansur project if they refile it," White added.

After listening to White's statement, Council President Scott Faultless lost his cool.

"That's the biggest bunch of baloney you could ever hear, and I'm sick of it," he said. Faultless slammed down his gavel, breaking it, and ordered a recess so he could simmer down.

The town council incident is only the latest, and most public, disagreement involving HDG and some homeowners in Hamilton Proper, which opened in 1990.

Some residents question why an HDG affiliate still controls the homeowners'

association and how it spends their

increasing annual dues.

HDG sells lots in the subdivision, but owners line up their own builders. Under its rules, the developer controls the homeowners' association by appointing all three members. That control is to remain until fewer than 25 percent of lots belong to HDG.

Once homeowners have purchased onequarter of the lots, they get to elect one board member. Once they control 50 percent, the board jumps to five members, with homeowners electing two. Once 75 percent of lots are sold, homeowners take over the association. Homeowners take it over in 2008 even if none of the thresholds is met.

Information provided by HDG suggests it's basing its percentage calculations on the 2,144 lots in Hamilton Proper's original master plan. However, homeowners contend that based on how properties were actually platted, far fewer lots are actually possible. Some think the 50-percent threshold has already been met.

"They don't want to give up the power," said a homeowner who asked that his name not be used.

Garrison disagreed, pointing to the HDG affiliate's program of selecting ambassadors from each neighborhood to work on association issues.

The affiliate "has chosen to use a cutting-edge program," Garrison wrote. "Hamilton Proper is innovative in this regard, essentially training homeowners in advance on what it takes to maintain the high-quality lifestyle that Hamilton Proper residents are accustomed to."

Another homeowner, Brian Myers, has questioned the developer's management of the association's budget.

Budget documents provided by Myers peg the association annual budget at just more than $1 million. In March, Myers asked to review the receipts and records on how the homeowners' association has spent the money.

An attorney for HDG responded that Myers would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement and to provide a deposit of $1,875 to cover costs that might be incurred to produce the documents before he could have a look, according to correspondence presented by Myers.

"It's clear that they don't want anyone to review the records," Myers said.

Garrison said in his e-mail that a firm prepares annual audits of the association's books. He said the conditions put on fulfilling Myers' request are "permitted and required under the Homeowner Association documentation and applicable law."

Myers said he's also suggested contracting out the administration of the neighborhood to a management firm, and he's recommended more vigorous attempts to bid out services such as lawn care, which he thinks would save money.

Garrison responded that services are "constantly bid out for quality, price, expediency and service," adding that maintenance costs could be lowered but only with a cut in quality.

HDG Mansur referred IBJ to another homeowner, Stephen Peters, who said not many neighbors share Myers' views.

Peters said he thinks annual dues are reasonable and well spent and that Hamilton Proper's extensive green spaces mean more upkeep.

"Given what you pay, you get it back in fine-quality residential space," he said. "It's a quality product and when you live in a quality space, you should expect to pay accordingly."

But Myers said he's not a lone wolf. He noted that more than 100 people signed a petition seeking a hearing on the association's budget. He said only a few people who were approached declined to sign.

Many homeowners contacted by IBJ either didn't want to comment or would do so only if their names weren't used.

One summed up the quarrel: "To me, it's a question of a developer who has created a wonderful community but has taken a lot of liberties with promises that he's made and with our homeowners' dues."
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