By Rusty Bradshaw
Residents of a condo association on Newcastle Drive are concerned a portion of their exterior wall could collapse due to erosion outside the Sun City community.
An opening under the wall, supported by three metal pillars, allows water runoff coming from as far away as the LaRonde Shopping Center at Del Webb Boulevard and Thunderbird Boulevard North to drain out of the community. The concrete drainage path has eroded outside the wall and continues to crumble away with each rain, according to Tom Taylor, Palm Court Condo Association board president.
“You can see where big pieces have fallen off recently,” he said, while showing a video he shot of the damaged area.
In addition, the concrete under the wall has a distinct crack down its center, extending to the erosion outside the wall.“We are afraid that some day this crack will give way and take the rest of the concrete with it,” he said. “That would take the supports and the weight of the wall will bring it down.”
Residents are concerned that a wall collapse could hurt someone nearby or block the drainage outlet and, if not cleared before a rain, cause flooding. Three units across a service road from the wall were flooded in 1982 from backed up runoff water, according to a March 29, 1997 letter from resident Norma Jean Lunz to Jan Brewer, then a Maricopa County Supervisor.
Mr. Taylor said he has contacted the land owners on the other side of the wall to request some kind of repair to the erosion. But response from Salt River, owners of the land on the west side of the wall, Project and Maricopa County officials indicate the association will get no help in fixing the problem.
“I believe the law requires property owners whose land impacts adjacent property to do something to mitigate potential damage,” he said.
Scott Isham, Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman’s chief of staff, said the county has the authority to enforce property owners, when necessary, to clean up or correct issues if they are in unincorporated portions of the county. However, county officials believe the condo association has the responsibility to correct the problem.
“Our inspector hasn’t been out there but by aerials it looks like it would be the HOA that would fix the issue since it is their runoff that is causing the erosion,” Mr. Isham stated in an email.
When associations accept the land from the builder, they accept responsibility for maintenance, according to Fields Mosley, Maricopa County communications director.
“Maricopa County is not responsible for maintenance, nor does it have the authority to spend taxpayer dollars on this drainage way because it is part of a private facility,” he explained. “Homeowner associations and improvement districts exist to maintain this type of infrastructure and it is common practice for those organizations to take ownership and responsibility after an area is developed. This prevents the ongoing costs of private developments from being borne by taxpayers county-wide.”
SRP officials also believe the condo association is responsible to correct the problem.
“I have checked with our land department and want you to know that the claims by Mr. Taylor are not correct that SRP is responsible for runoff water from his community draining into an area of land that is owned by SRP,” Jeffrey Lane, SRP media relations representative, stated in an email.
SRP officials’ review of the plat drawings shows the association does not have the right to discharge its water onto SRP property in that location.
“As a result, we do not believe we have financial responsibility to repair the perimeter wall that allegedly has been damaged by erosion,” Mr. Lane stated. “In fact, as a result of their draining onto SRP property without our permission, that draining has resulted in damage to our property.”
Mr. Taylor maintains the association did not install the drainage port nor is it just water from the association that drains through the port. Association documents from the 1990s appears to support his claim.
A Jan. 30, 1997 Palm Court Association board report stated runoff water comes from as far away as the LaRonde Center and drains into the association property. Michael Jesberger, then Del Webb land development vice president, inspected the area with an association board member and said a crack on the port’s cement drainage path was most likely caused by water back flow, according to the report. Board members at the time believed extra cement from the pad was dumped at the end of it and not smoothed out and that caused the back flow, the report stated. However, there are no records of the association ordering or funding the port installation or pouring of the cement pad.
Ms. Lunz, in her letter to Ms. Brewer, said she was unable to determine who did the work.
“But it was not this association,” she stated in the letter.
Ms. Lunz added she had discussions with SRP, Recreation Centers of Sun City, Sun City Home Owners Association, APS and Del Webb Corp. officials and all agreed it was an erosion problem.
“(They also agreed) someone else is always responsible, even the suggestion that this association will have to fix it,” Ms. Lunz stated.
She and Mr. Taylor believe it is unreasonable to place the responsibility entirely on the association. While he said he had not approached SRP or county officials about an agreement for shared responsibility, he believed that was an option that should be attempted.
Mr. Lane said SRP officials would be open to an agreement for the association to have an easement across its property for water drainage, but emphasized the utility company should not have any financial responsibility for a solution.
The issue is another in the chapter of wall responsibility in Sun City. For years gaping holes in exterior walls caused by cars crashing through them or trees falling on them were left for months while officials of various agencies and homeowners haggled over who paid for repairs. Because RCSC, SCHOA nor the county took financial responsibility, it generally fell to the homeowner.
About 20 years ago a group formed to raise funds to paint Sun City’s exterior walls, funded by donations. That effort was revised about two years ago by the Sun City Residents Action program, again funded by donations.