WALESKA – Nearly 200 people packed Lake Arrowhead Church on Tuesday night to hear a second public presentation of the Waleska neighborhood’s Village Center at Great Festival Park project and participate in a question-and-answer session led by community staff.
Additional seating had to be brought in to accommodate the turnout, and the room periodically erupted into shouting matches between residents.
Lake Arrowhead Communities General Manager Steve Roe gave a similar presentation at a resident meeting and groundbreaking on Feb. 26. The project would build homes, a fitness center, café and mail center near Lake Arrowhead’s Great Festival Park.
“People are social creatures, so while sometimes you want to get away from it all, sometimes you also want a common place to be with other people,” Roe said at the introduction of the presentation. “This really is a new alternative that isn’t currently offered in Lake Arrowhead.”
Residents and members of the Lake Arrowhead Property Owners Association interrupted portions of the presentation expressing frustration that the project was developed without residents input.
“We have had no input whatsoever. The plans have been concealed from us,” LAPOA President Morris Nunes said, standing up and facing the crowd during the presentation.
After the meeting, Nunes said his outburst, which drew applause from a portion of the crowd, was a reflection of the feelings of many residents in the community. He said many of his and other residents’ submitted questions and concerns regarding the community’s infrastructure and water issues went unaddressed. Participants in the meeting were told in advance that they should submit questions in advance my email.
“Most of the questions that I (submitted), particularly the more, what I would call, controversial questions were not answered,” Nunes said. “I was extraordinarily displeased with the outcome of the meeting, and I was displeased with the plan, in the sense that we offered to cooperate, we knew that something was being developed, but we didn’t know what. They did this behind our back.”
Nunes also said many residents are fed up with the lack of ownership that often comes with living in the community.
“Unlike most property owners and homeowners associations, we do not own the common areas here,” he said.
Roger Akers, a former LAPOA president and current resident of the community said concerns are being blown out of proportion, many residents are making blind accusations and the interruptions of the night’s meeting are not the way to find solutions.
“(It was) disruptive, which is typical. It’s been that way for 20 years. There’s always the ones that don’t abide by the rules. There was a message that went out that said, ‘Send in your questions, and if you can’t send them in, don’t ask them from the floor,’” Akers said after the meeting. “The problem is nobody knows all the facts, and people deal with assumptions… Let’s get to the facts, and then let’s hold people accountable to build a plan and execute it.”
Akers said he is in favor of the new development at Great Festival Park and is excited at what it will bring to the community.
Tuesday’s resident meeting comes on the heels of the controversial Feb. 26 reveal of the village center project and the county’s withholding of further building permits for the community, because of a recommendation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPD said the community does not have the drinking water capacity to add homes.
Roe, Lake Arrowhead Utility Co. Vice President George Sullivan, and James Haslam of Lake Arrowhead Yacht and Country Club operations addressed resident concerns over the neighborhood’s sewer capacity and water issues, as well as questions of road maintenance.
Sullivan acknowledged that radium levels in one of the community’s wells required that it be taken offline in 2016. Sullivan also said, however, that changes in EPD regulation since the well’s 1972 drilling lowered the acceptable amount of radium in water supplies, and “that put us in violation.”
The loss of Well 16 meant that the number of allowed water taps for the neighborhood fell, putting the community over its drinking water capacity. But the EPD’s estimations of daily resident water usage in the neighborhood should be re-evaluated, and, based on his estimation, the community should be allowed more tap capacity, Sullivan said.
“The EPD figures that every household (in Lake Arrowhead) uses about 400 gallons of water a day. You people are way more conservative than that. Our average customer uses less than 100 gallons of water per day,” he said.
Sullivan also said the radium in the well can be removed, but that the EPD has to guide the utility company in the process.
“We are going to work with the EPD to try to figure out what to do, because we can get the radium out of our system, just as we do the manganese and the iron. The problem is, what are we going to do with this radium once we get it out of the well?” he said. “The EPD has yet to give us an answer on that… They make the regulations, and we feel like they need to tell us what we can do with this radium.”
James Cooley, director of EPD district operations said Thursday that considerations of water usage and capacity are negotiable, as long as certain standards are still met, but regarding the proper disposal of radium, Lake Arrowhead and the EPD will have to be in close communication – the EPD is not solely responsible for providing appropriate information.
EPD is open to revisiting its determination of capacity by using Lake Arrowhead’s historical usage data, Cooley said in an email to the Tribune. The issue of cleaning radium from the system hinges on how the waste will be disposed of.
“We will continue to work with the system to come up with an amicable solution,” Cooley wrote.
Resident reports of occasional “dirty tap water” are a result of old and failing pipes in the community, and as the utility finds out about them, they are replaced, Sullivan said. He encouraged customers to contact the utility company, should they experience these issues.
“I want you all to feel assured that we’re staying on top of this and doing everything we can to get you clean drinking water,” Sullivan said.
Cherokee County Commissioner Steve West, who represents the district including Lake Arrowhead said Thursday that representatives of Johnson Development, the Lake Arrowhead Utility Co., a Lake Arrowhead engineer and a hired consultant met with West, Commission Chair Buzz Ahrens and county staff on Tuesday afternoon to update them on efforts to “resolve issues with their water systems.”
West reaffirmed that the county will not issue developers any new building permits until Lake Arrowhead leadership can come up with a plan that satisfies the EPD. He said he recommended that executives develop a master plan that better lays out plans for future development in the community, allowing the county better oversight.
For his part, Haslam told residents that the private roads of the community and their ongoing maintenance are the responsibility of the LAYCC and the LAPOA. He said the LAPOA functions as an “advisory body” to the LAYCC.
Lake Arrowhead dues come in to the LAYCC monthly and are used for the management of the privately-owned portions of the neighborhood, Haslam said. While the developers are responsible for the roads and infrastructure in areas under development, those areas that are complete become the responsibility of the property owners, he said.
“I understand that you guys pay property tax, the same as everybody else, but this is a private, gated community. The public can’t access the roads, as a general rule, so they’re our responsibility to fix,” Haslam said. “I noticed there was some discussion about having Johnson, the developer, provide funds (for maintenance). That is not his obligation… The money that comes into the LAYCC… (has to be used) judiciously. We make every effort to spend it wisely and get the most value we can… But I would say, by and large, the roads get what’s left at the end of the year.”
Future meetings and opportunities to ask additional questions are expected, Roe told residents at the meeting.