New chapter begins for senior cottage community
STERLING – It’s been a long road, but with a new name, the former Coventry Village Sterling Cottages have turned a corner.
Now Cottage Acres, many of the 68 senior living units in the 600 block of East St. Marys Road still are vacant, but it’s hoped that a new ownership structure will breathe life into the senior living community.
The previous owners, Coventry and then WC-Sterling LLC, were unable to make the cottages financial viable. The resident and their families have suffered through several anxious years of uncertainty, wondering whether the owners would file bankruptcy, creating the possibility they could be forced to leave their homes and the money put into them lost.
In an effort to make the best of a bad situation, the owners petitioned the city’s Plan Commission in September 2017 to make zoning and platting changes that would allow them to turn over deeds to the cottages to residents and their heirs. The cottages then would be managed by a homeowners association.
The city rezoned the properties with a planned unit development designation to ensure the cottages would be in line with city code.
“This was an insurance policy for the owners,” City Planner Dustin Wolff said. “If owners should decide to sell and the properties aren’t legal and conforming, that’s a problem with lenders.”
The zoning changes were approved, and that’s where the city’s involvement ended.
“The city did everything it could to get everyone together in the same room, but once everything was wrapped up with the Plan Commission and council, our business was finished,” said Amanda Schmidt, the city’s building and zoning superintendent.
An ad hoc group led by Sterling businessman Tim McNinch, who had a family member staying there, was set up to look out for the interests of the residents during the long ownership transition process.
The final group of deeds have been transferred to the residents and heirs and a homeowners association has been formed. The HOA board was elected March 9.
“It took a while, because every lot was different and there were so many signatures to get,” said Pat Reynolds of Glenview, a Sterling native.
Reynolds, one of the five board members, had a relative who lived in one of the cottages for about 12 years. The other board members are Carl Thornbled, Harriet Bushman, and Chris and Mary Troie. A regular meeting time hasn’t been set, but they will be held at least once a month in the Cottage Acres activity center.
“We’ll probably meet more often the first few months because there are so many issues to deal with,” Reynolds said.
The HOA is set up so that it is responsible for the exterior of the cottages, roads and shared green space. Residents take care of everything indoors.
The HOA fees are $200 and they will go up to $215 to cover an umbrella insurance policy the HOA is buying for all of the units. The policy covers catastrophic events, including replacement of the units, but residents will still need to insure their possessions.
The biggest challenge is filling the cottages. Only 10 units have residents and 14 have been put on the market. The HOA owns three and the rest belong to family estates. The HOA is in the process of hiring an attorney to help with HOA bylaws and some of the decisions that must be made.
“We need to decide things like whether we need a management company to help us out, whether we will allow owners to rent out units, and if we even want to maintain a retirement community environment,” Reynolds said.
The top priorities for improvements in the cottage community are getting the roads and driveways repaired and upgrading the exterior of the units, including roofs, siding, trim and sidewalks.
The roadwork alone with cost between $120,000 and $150,000, Reynolds said. Power-washing, painting and replacing rotted wood could cost $2,000 for each unit.
When the cottages were built in the late 1980s, the utilities and roads were privatized, and are not the city’s responsibility. City officials, however, were concerned that the utilities could become their problem by default.
“The roads and utilities are not built up to standards for that type of development,” Wolff said. “The city doesn’t want them to become public because not much is known about what condition they are in.”
The infrastructure will be expensive, and if the HOA can’t afford to address it in the years to come, the city could still be responsible for it.
The HOA won’t have to pay property taxes until 2020.