Running an HOA

Running an HOA

Braddock District Council leads workshop for community leaders.

Sometimes even leaders need a little help. Keeping this in mind, the Braddock District Council and the Braddock District Supervisor's Office organized the second annual Braddock District workshop Wednesday, March 29. The workshop, which invited the leaders of homeowners' associations and civic associations from across the Braddock District, began as a pilot program last year, helping community leaders become familiar with topics such as insurance needs, neighborhood watch programs and enforcement of covenant rules.

"That’s what this workshop is all about," said Janyce Hedetniemi, Braddock District Council president. "Trying to be helpful in the Braddock District community, to be better informed and help each other." This year, the workshop focused on issues of community diversity, appearance and liability surrounding stormwater management, and liability and maintenance for things like playgrounds and community pools.

STORMWATER PONDS are a familiar issue to many community leaders. Don Lacquement of the Stormwater Planning Division in the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services described the differences between the various methods of stormwater management. A detention pond is a dry pond where excess stormwater drains through a concrete riser into an underground pipe system rather than flowing into streams and scouring the streambeds, he said. A BMP pond is the same as a regular detention pond, but with a regulator on the pipeline mouth that slows the water and causes the pond to drain more slowly. The Burke area also has a number of manmade lakes created expressly for stormwater management, such as Lake Royal or Lake Braddock. Community associations must take care of their retention ponds, said county attorney David Bobzein. Although accidents are rare, he said, they do happen. When ponds become clogged, they present a drowning risk for children, creating liability issues for the community associations that manage the facilities, he said. Fairfax County owns an easement around the ponds to do maintenance work, said Bobzein, but other than that, stormwater management facilities are solely the responsibility of the community associations.

"The homeowner’s association has an underlying duty not to be negligent in the keeping of property," said Bobzein.

The best thing to do is to keep a neighborhood watch on the ponds and report any problems to the county, said Bobzein.

"The sooner you see a problem and report it, the better," said Lacquement. "Believe it or not, large stuff gets into these ponds."

ACCORDING TO Tom Reinkober, president of the Canterbury Woods Civic Association, the greatest barrier to neighborhood unity is lack of communication. If a community member has a problem with a neighbor, the first question Reinkober always asks is: "Have you talked to them?" Usually, he said, the answer is no.

"I’ve dealt with cultural differences," said Reinkober. "If anything has been one of my problems, it is people not talking to people."

Cultural differences are subjective, said Angie Carrera, language access coordinator for the Fairfax County government. "Often when we talk about cultural differences, we talk about ‘other’ cultures, but all of us have cultures as well," she said.

Reinkober, Carrera and workshop members listed barriers to cultural understanding and neighborhood unity, such as fear, language, self-interest, and not knowing about available resources. Sometimes, said Carrera, the best way to reach a new neighbor is through their children. While parents are concerned about loss of cultural identity, she said, children are more likely to become familiar with American culture.

"With each generation, we see a shift," said Carrera.

One of the best things to do for new neighbors, said Reinkober, however, is to host child-friendly events, since the children are the ones who bring their parents.

In the George Mason neighborhood, said representative Charles Casson, new residents receive a welcome packet with information on the neighborhood and a book of covenant rules.

When working with community members from different backgrounds, said Carrera, the most important thing to remember is that not everyone will conduct their lives "the American way." People must understand and respect cultural differences rather than expect assimilation, said Carrera.

"People should still be able to be individuals," said Casson. Everyone has a different set of values, but all share the same neighborhood concerns, he said: education, safety, and property values.

"It’s all about relationships," said Carrera. "You don’t even have to speak the same language. You just have to listen."