Residents on private streets in Birchfield housing development ask township to take over

Residents spoke of paying more expensive homeowners association fees to maintain the streets in addition to municipal property taxes.

Several residents from the oldest section of the Birchfield housing development spoke at this week’s Mt. Laurel Township Council meeting to ask the township to consider designating six currently private streets in the Birchfield development as public streets to be maintained by the township.

According to residents, the private streets contain large, single-family homes that were built in the 1970s as part of the first phase of the Birchfield development.

Residents at the meeting complained that those living in homes on the private streets have to pay homeowners association fees of up to $111 per month to pay for the additional cost of maintaining the private streets.

At the same time, residents at the meeting said homeowners in the second phase of the Birchfield development, which was built in the 1980s, pay lower monthly homeowners association fees of about $47, as their streets are all public streets maintained by the township.

In addition to the more expensive homeowners association fees, Dorothy Mansdoerfer, whose daughter lives in Birchfield, said first phase residents on the private streets also pay a full municipal property tax bill on their properties, while still not receiving street maintenance services from the township.

“For some reason, the six streets on phase one were never changed to public … what is required for the township to officially take over the ownership of these six streets that should have been moved over to the township in 1980?” Mansdoerfer asked.

Birchfield resident Bob Feldman also spoke and echoed the concerns of Mansdoerfer.

“Regarding the tax base, the people who are on streets they’re maintaining themselves are paying the same tax rate to the township, and the residents have what I believe are legitimate questions as to why that’s the case,” Feldman said.

In response to residents’ questions, Mt. Laurel Township Planner Joseph Petrongolo said that while many developments have roads that are typically built to township standards and later dedicated to the township, it’s not unheard of for developments to have some private roads for any number of reasons.

“They have a private road, and the road is designed to sufficient engineering standards, but it might not be designed to the municipal standards, and that’s a decision made by the developer at the time when they come before the (planning) board,” Petrongolo said.

Officials noted that regardless of why the streets were originally designated as private and kept that way for nearly 40 years, the township cannot simply take ownership of the streets without first examining how they compare to current municipal and state codes.

Officials said Birchfield residents on private streets might decide its more cost effective to simply keep the streets as private should the township require the homeowners association to potentially pay millions of dollars to bring the streets in question up to current codes regarding features such as street width, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, curbing design, asphalt depth, etc.

“Obviously the township wants to make sure that before we say “OK” — you have to do x, y and z to bring it up to code,” Mt. Laurel Township Manager Meredith Tomczyk said. “That could be an expensive bill, maybe an even more expensive bill than you’re paying now.”

Regardless, township officials said the township engineer would begin examining the streets in question to present Birchfield residents with an assessment of what upgrades would be required to bring the streets up to current regulations.