Ashcroft coup: Developer ousts board-- or tries to

Perched east of town on Pantops, Ashcroft is a friendly neighborhood with big houses that can sell for upwards of $700,000.

Make that, used to be a friendly neighborhood. Developerand resident– Rick Beyer's attempt to disband the neighborhood association's board of directors and name his own directors has left the neighborhood with two boards and the possibility of litigation in its future.

It's not clear why Beyer wanted a new board of directors, and he did not return phone calls from The Hook.

"This whole thing is close to litigation," says Fred Payne, Beyer's attorney. "It's not appropriate to discuss this in light of ongoing discussions."

One board member, who declined to be identified, believes Beyer didn't like the board's decision to raise the $480 annual fees residents pay to maintain the subdivision's pool, roads, and lawns– and its decision to raise the assessment paid by new homeowners from $750 to $1,000.

The board hired an engineer to look at the aging private streets. "They're 12 to 20 years old," says the board member. "It's going to cost $40,000 to $50,000 a year to maintain them over the next few years."

On December 10, Beyer sent a letter to members of the Ashcroft Neighborhood Association calling for a meeting on January 6. The letter detailed his intention to remove board members Jeanine Wolanski, Ron Hoffman, Bob Lee, and Lisa Lockwood, and to nominate and elect four people to replace them.

How could Beyer single handedly depose an elected group? His letter claims that his company, Liberty Land Ltd., which developed Ashcroft, controls two-thirds of the votes that would be cast at the meeting under its Class B membership rights.

The neighborhood association did not agree. It hired its own lawyer and sent a December 22 letter to neighbors maintaining that Liberty Land lost its Class B status when it sold more that 66 2/3 percent of the recorded lots in Ashcroft, and in fact is alloted only one vote for each of the 24 lots it owns of the total 161 lots in the neighborhood.

Do developers often fire a neighborhood association's officers? "This is the first I've heard of," says Ben McCauley, owner of Condominium Management of Charlottesville, which manages "quite a few" condo and homeowner associations in the area.

In business since 1988, McCauley can't even estimate the number of local homeowner associations. "Everywhere there's a new subdivision, 99 percent of the time there's a homeowners association," he notes.

Bylaws are all written differently, he observes, and they determine who has the right to do what. McCauley advised the Ashcroft board to "find a competent real estate attorney."

Ashcroftians gathered in the clubhouse meeting room January 6. Estimates range from 40 to 50 people to over 100, according to another resident, who also declined to be named. "It's the most people I've seen at a meeting that didn't involve a party," noted another board member.

Ninety-one votes were cast opposing Beyer's takeover, and six were cast in favor, says a knowledgeable source who adds, "He's entitled to 24 votes because he owns 24 lots. He's claiming 260 votes. That's what's in dispute."

Then Beyer's lawyer voted the two-thirds majority votes Liberty Land claims, and named a new board consisting of Beyer; his wife, Diana; his architect, Ted Cosner; and his real estate agent, Suzy Pace.

The latter two "don't even live here," says a board member. "You don't have to be a genius to figure out who that board represents. Now there's two boards. Somebody has to decide" which is the legitimate board of directors.

"The old board still has the bank account," adds the anonymous director.

Attorney Payne doesn't exactly agree that Ashcroft now has two boards: "I wouldn't say that," he says.

What Payne will say is this: "We have been actively trying to resolve this. The Beyers have lived in this subdivision for 20 years. The last thing they want to do is alienate anyone. They felt they didn't have any choice."

He adds, "We retain hopes we can resolve this amicably."

The attorney for the possibly ousted board, Jim Bowling, declines comment on the unusual situation, but agrees with Payne on one thing: "We've also been working to resolve this amicably."

Certainly Ashcroft residents don't like the sort of internal dissent that could land them all in court. "We'd prefer there be no animosity," says an association board member. "The developer is one of the homeowners, and we're dealing with a neighbor."

And despite the controversy over who at this point actually is running the neighborhood association, "This," the board member maintains, "is a great, close-knit neighborhood."

Things get touchy in dream neighborhood Ashcroft when the developer fires the neighborhood association board of directors and installs his own board.