FARMINGTON WOODS: CONDOMINIUM OR COMPANY TOWN? Part 2 – Click here to read Part 1
A divisive battle is taking place at the giant Farmington Woods Condo complex in Avon where a minority of the golfers want the whole complex to pay millions of dollars to install a new irrigation system owned by the tax district, which represents the complex.
The following is written by Lee Lagasse is Chairman of FW Resident for Fiscal Responsibility and blogs about this issue at www.farmingtonwoodsinsider.blogspot.com.
Lagasse tells the tale of how this complex is much like the old fashioned company town and gives insight about how he and other condo owners are unable to learn how much money is being paid to those managing the golf course.
As a non-golfer and as someone who believes that private golf courses have no way to go but downhill, Lagasse opposed having his district taxes increased by 18 percent for the benefit of golfers, especially now that he can’t even find out where the money is going to.
Others who feel differently are welcome to state their views at CtWatchdog.
Whether you live at Farmington Woods or in any condo, or considering buying a condo, you need to read this to know what kinds of issues you might face.
By Lee Lagasse
When a business runs a town, it’s a company town.
When you think of company towns what usually comes to mind are dirty coal towns like Claghorn, PA, smoky steel towns like Gary, Indiana or if you you’re up on your history, a little place called Pullman, IL, where in 1880, just as the Robber Baron era began, George Pullman built 900 tidy row houses for the workers who produced his Pullman sleeping cars, luxury railroad conveyances, at the factory located in his “ideal” factory town.
Unlike some of the filthy coal mining towns owned by unscrupulous mine owners who built them for their workers with the intent of draining every last drop of capital from their labors, Pullman’s town was neat, clean and orderly. Because he was acquainted with the issues of labor unrest and poverty that other company towns, with their tenements, drunkenness and of course prostitution, Pullman built his town so that his workers would remain happy and productive. But like every other company town of its day, every home, business and amenity belonged to the Pullman Company. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This article is about Farmington Woods Condominium. I’ll get back to Pullman a little later in this column.
After reading the history of these company towns recently, it got me thinking about the “town” in which I have lived for thirteen years, Farmington Woods Condominium, in Avon, CT. In an article last week in this publication I wrote that by population it is larger than ten “real” towns in Connecticut. Even the budget is larger. But then I read the articles on company towns and it dawned on me. Not only is Farmington Woods like a town, it is like a very specific type of town. With the Farmington Woods Golf Club, a private enterprise, virtually running the show, what we really have here is a good old fashioned company town.
In this article I am going to make some comparisons between these towns and the place where I live and if you’ll bear with me for a moment and give me a little creative license I’ll show you how reading about these anachronisms gave me a whole new perspective on the “taxing” situation that at present has residents of Farmington Woods Condominium, an upscale residential community situated on an 18 hole golf course in Avon, CT fighting among themselves. The possibility of an 18% tax increase will do that to people. That, together with the lack of transparency with regard to who gets paid what here, and how and where the funds are allocated, have people outraged.
ALLOW ME TO RECAP
When I wrote about Farmington Woods last week I reported that the board had decided to float two bonds totaling $4M over 20 years, resulting in an 18% increase in residents’ district taxes, to upgrade infrastructure on the forty year old golf course and do a facelift on the adjacent clubhouse. It was a long article and if you didn’t read it, you’ll need a summary.
Farmington Woods was built in the early ‘70’s by award-winning landscape architect Otto Paparazzo surrounding a privately owned and run golf course designed by renowned architect Desmond Muirhead. It was built as a condominium with a golf course to attract folks who wanted to live on a golf course, but the course itself was owned by the developer, not the condominium association. It seemed to work pretty well because by the mid-80’s the course had 600 condominiums and 300 resident golfers with probably a like number of non-resident golfers, roughly the same ratio that exists today.
Unfortunately, in 1985 when the original developer went belly-up, the financial institution that funded the project, Fidelity Insurance of Philadelphia, decided not to stay in the golf business and sold the course to a private party. When resident golfers discovered this, they sued, claiming they had been denied “right of first refusal”. They also sued for some shoddy workmanship on the part of the original developer. The residents prevailed and were awarded a settlement in the in the million dollar range, easily enough to purchase the property in 1985.
This is where it gets interesting. Having received enough from the settlement to purchase the course and clubhouse, with money left over to build an office for its on-site management, the people in charge decided on a strategy that would give them ultimate control over the golf enterprise and at the same time giving them a bargaining chip to use with the 300 non-golfing residents living at Farmington Woods.
The group leading the charge told residents that if they floated a bond for a million bucks to purchase the course, not only would they now have a cool million in the reserve fund by virtue of the settlement money, but that this course of action would spread the cost of the purchase over twenty years,to future owners, something everyone likes to hear. Oh, and they had to promise this group of 300 non-golfing residents that there would never, ever be an assessment on the golf course or the clubhouse. Did I mention they said never?
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