Developers Bob Hanratta and two partners put in hundreds of thousands of their own funds and personally guaranteed big loans to make that retirement dream a reality.
But the recession had other plans.
And after only 20 homes were built and a dozen sold, the developers ran out of money for the project.
On March 4, about 50 individual lots, an 8.5-acre undeveloped parcel and the community’s clubhouse were taken back by Union First Market Bank at a foreclosure auction.
“The economy is what started the snowball rolling,” said Hanratta. “That prevented us from doing the things we know we needed to do but we didn’t have the money.”
The slower pace of development led to a few angry residents and some legal wrangling.
BizSense first ran a story on Dogwood in February and at the time couldn’t contact Hanratta for comment.
BizSense caught up with the 49-year-old developer this week on the grounds of the development. Hanratta wanted to clear the air regarding allegations made by some neighborhood residents who weren’t happy with the way things were coming along on the project, even though they were still paying $200 a month in dues.
What really got Hanratta’s blood boiling was a lawsuit filed in August by Dogwood resident James Pron. The suit asked the Chesterfield County Circuit Court to order the developer to provide all services promoted and required by the home owners association agreement and, if necessary, to appoint a receiver to collect the monthly dues.
Of particular contention was the absence of a pool and tennis court, which were marketed but never built.
That was not for lack of effort, Hanratta said, despite the lawsuit’s allegations.
“There’s nothing in writing in our sales materials that says we’re going to provide the pool by a certain date,” Hanratta said. “It’s all driven by the economy.”
Hanratta built a clubhouse and fitness center but couldn’t secure financing to complete the pool and tennis courts.
“The flavor of the story was such that I collected dues and never provided any services,” Hanratta said. “It’s not a perfect world, and I’m not saying I walked on water out here. I did everything we had the financial wherewithal to do.”
Pron previously told BizSense that the only service being provided to residents was trash removal. Hanratta says that’s not that the case and that snow removal, landscaping and other services were taken care of.
And for anyone who questioned where their dues were going, Hanratta said the financial records of the HOA are and have been available for residents to examine.
The lawsuit was never served and has not progressed since it was filed seven months ago.
Still, the problems between the developers and some of the residents became so contentious that Hanratta agreed to let an association management firm in as a mediator.
Robert Small, who owns Commonwealth Community Management, volunteered in September to let both sides address their concerns and to help find a way to turn the association over the residents.
Small said disagreements between developers and residents are typical, especially when handing over control of a home owner’s association.
“Nine out of 10 times, it is a rough relationship,” Small said. “Residents don’t think the developer has given enough, and the developer thinks he has given too much.”
“I couldn’t get the home owners to come to the table,” Small said. “They didn’t see the long-term damage.”
As for the residents’ concerns about what their monthly dues were paying for, Small said the developers turned over all the financial records of the HOA.
“They’re not hiding anything,” Small said. “They were shelling out thousands and thousands of dollars, and I could see the writing on the wall that they were going under.”
Beyond the conflict, Dogwood’s ultimate downfall appears to have been timing.
Hanratta and his two partners bought the Dogwood property, which sits just off Hull Street Road, in 2003. The first home was built there in 2006.
They went through three different real estate brokers to try to market the development. But before it had the chance to gain any momentum, the downturn in the market hit.
“Back then we thought this place was going to be built out in two years,” Hanratta said. “We needed to sell two or three houses a month, and we never did.”
Combined, the three partners put in hundreds of thousands of their funds to get the project off the ground and try to keep it going when things got tough.
“We wouldn’t have continued to do that if we didn’t believe in it,” Hanratta said.
Hanratta and his partners also had other projects in the works that ate away at their resources, including a condo project in the Outer Banks and a development in Gum Springs. Both have since gone into foreclosure.
“People have no idea the sweat and personal funds and guarantees we put in,” Hanratta said. “We put ourselves and our families and our own possessions on the line.”
Hanratta, a general contractor by trade, plans to leave the development game and go back to doing remodeling work and building custom homes for individual clients.
As for the future of the Villas at Dogwood, the bank will likely look to sell it off to a new developer or builder to finish things off, Small said.
But that won’t be an easy task, he warned.
“I see problems for the new builder and the new developer. They’re coming into a hornets nest.”
Michael Schwartz is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]