Pond issue riles Warner Robins neighborhood

WARNER ROBINS — When Karin Cronce purchased her house in the Peach Blossom Terrace subdivision in January 2007, she and her husband said they were led to believe the property would be on the waterfront.

The excavated area out back, they were told, would be filled with water in a couple of years.

“That’s why we bought the house,” Cronce said.

Now two years later, residents in the subdivision still have no aesthetic pond. Instead, there’s a gaping hole in their backyards, with only small amounts of water. It’s a far cry from the pond Karin Cronce envisioned.

Cronce and other Peach Blossom Terrace residents are waiting as city officials and the project’s developer, Tom Brightman, wrangle over who’s responsible for the project and how to move forward.

The promised pond has been a contentious issue for years, even before the Cronces moved into the neighborhood.

Brightman said this month that installing an aesthetic pond was never part of his responsibility and that the subdivision’s covenants call for the owners of the lots surrounding the pond to form a pond association to create an aesthetic pond along with its rules and regulations. He said he made a provision for a pond and called for the association to be responsible for its maintenance and improvements.

Concerns about the pond surfaced in 2006, soon after the subdivision was built.

Scott Ward, a resident of the subdivision, began looking into having something done to the hole in June 2006. Though he didn’t live on any of the lots surrounding it, he said he was annoyed by the mosquitoes that standing water attracted in the summer.

“It’s my property value, too,” Ward said. “It’s the property value of everybody in here.”

He initially contacted the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, who sent him to city officials.

Assistant city engineer Charles Beauchea said the city began looking into the development after receiving complaints around 2007.

In a September 2008 letter from the city of Warner Robins, the city states that a well was installed by Brightman to store water to fill the pond, but the city ordinance only allows wells for irrigation.

The application with the Warner Robins Utilities Department showed that the well was to be used for irrigation, but an application for the well permit with Houston County Environmental Health showed that the well was to be used to maintain a retention pond. Since then, the well has been disconnected. City building official Bill Mulkey said the well was disconnected because of bad wiring.

The letter also stated that Brightman went onto the property after the subdivision phase was completed, lowered the bottom elevation of the pond and disturbed and damaged the area. Beauchea said Brightman violated his permit.

Earlier this month, the Warner Robins City Council ordered that Brightman restore the pond to its original condition in the latest of a series of actions taken by the city on this development.

If no corrective action is taken in a timely manner, the developer could face a fine of up to $2,500 per day, city officials said.

Jim Elliott, city attorney at the time the letter was sent to Brightman, said that by moving the dirt, the developer created a situation where topsoil could be washed into nearby lakes and streams.

“From the city’s perspective, it interferes with the city’s drainage system and retention system,” Elliott said. “There was a plan and it was approved and built, and someone went in and did something to alter all that.”

Furthermore, the letter stated that Brightman did not submit a notice of termination once the project was completed, nor did he complete a notice of intent for the additional work he performed.

Brightman said because the area he disturbed was less than an acre, he did not need an additional permit.

The letter stated that Brightman either fix the pond or stay off the property.

Brightman blames the city for much of the problems. He said most of the erosion was caused by a lack of maintenance of the city’s easements on lots he owned.

In December, Brightman sent a letter to the city via his attorney, K. Thomas Hall, stating he would be willing to extend pipe between various lots as well as shape the pond’s bottom and stabilize the slopes.

However, Beauchea said that wasn’t enough.

“There was nothing to negotiate,” Beauchea said. “It was required for the pond to be returned to original condition.”

Nevertheless, Brightman maintains that the work he offered to perform on the property would have solved the problems and restored the area. He also said he tried to reach out to the city on numerous occasions before retaining an attorney.

Brightman said he would like to meet with the mayor, City Council and lot owners to discuss the situation. He said he hasn’t been invited to any of the City Council meetings where the matter was discussed with subdivision residents, nor was he aware the meetings took place.

“I want to talk to them first and come up with a plan together,” Brightman said.

Brightman said he’s an advocate for an aesthetic pond being placed in the stormwater management area.

“The pond in Peach Blossom Terrace could be beautiful if it had water in it,” Brightman said.

“Just like Lake Tobesofkee or Lake Lanier, it looks terrible without water. I think the owners of lots that belong to the pond association deserve a beautiful pond with water in it.”

Cronce said she’s also concerned about the area’s safety.

A manhole with a large cover sits in the back of her house with a crevice big enough for either her 3-year-old or 9-month old to fall through. Due to the erosion, she said, she can’t place a fence in her backyard.

Besides that, she said she has witnessed children trying to swim in the little bit of water in the retention pond and build fires when it’s dry. Tubes and pipes are scattered about.

“I’m more worried about child endangerment,” Cronce said.

Brightman said he cannot go onto the property to do anything because he and the city differ on how the pond area needs to be fixed. As for children playing in the area, Brightman said that the area is exclusive to those who own property where the pond should be located. Anyone else in the area would be trespassing, he said.

“There’s no safety issue that you wouldn’t have on any other waterfront or pond lot properties,” Brightman said.

Chika Day, who also lives on one of the lots, has been trying to sell her house since last June because she and her family are moving to Washington, D.C.

Whenever she shows the house to potential buyers, she always gets the same questions.

“They wonder if they are going to finish it,” Day said of the pond. “It’s an eyesore.”

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.