FLOYD COUNTY – The Jeep rattles to and fro as James Photiadis cautiously steers the vehicle on a damp and rocky path overrun with vegetation and surrounded by steep drop-offs on either side.
He parks the Jeep a few feet from the entrance to a ravine and points across the gap in the walls to where his property begins. The narrow track bears no resemblance to the paved roads in the Canyonlands subdivision above the ravine, and Photiadis doesn’t live within the closed gates of the private community. But he’s still charged the same homeowners association fees.
And the reason he pays $600 annually is beneath his feet on Thursday afternoon. Because the unkept passage connects from the subdivision to a portion of Photiadis’ property, he’s required to pay $600 annually to the Canyonlands Homeowners Association.
Those 21.29 acres of his property off Canyon Road in Floyd County, which contain no developments or housing, are considered part of the subdivision. It’s a fact that Photiadis has been fighting for almost 10 years, and he’s filed a lawsuit in hopes of receiving relief.
“It’s taxation without representation,” he said.
The subdivision was developed by David Ruckman, which is who Photiadis said he bought the property from in 2012. It sits well below the lot where Photiadis’ house is along Sun Ridge Drive, which is near Quarry Road in Georgetown Township.
The views are scenic as it’s one of the few areas in Floyd County left largely untouched by development. Photiadis said part of his reasoning for purchasing the additional acreage was because he wants it to remain a green space.
Photiadis said he didn’t learn until after he purchased the property that it was included in the Canyonlands subdivision, bringing it within the neighborhood association’s purview.
Looking at the property, he said it was hard to imagine that it would be included in a subdivision plat.
The access easements — the narrow trails that lead to either end of the property — were cited as reasons why the acreage is in the subdivision, though Photiadis emphasized it’s unrealistic that anyone would ever develop the parcel.
“The whole thing is a vertical incline,” said Photiadis while pointing upward toward the developed parts of the area from the access easement at the bottom of the ravine.
Photiadis said he attempted to find reasonable middle ground with the homeowners association. He said Canyonlands performs no maintenance on the access roads and that he has footed all the work that makes the path at least somewhat usable.
Photiadis said he asked that he be compensated $100 or $200 annually for maintaining the easements but was denied.
Near Photiadis’ house is the other portion of the access easement. That portion is a gravel road that spans less than 15 feet in width and leads to the acreage in question. The decline is also steep and like the other side of the ravine, it’s wet and would be impassable for most vehicles.
Photiadis said the path is often blocked by fallen debris such as rocks and tree limbs.
Though Photiadis has a warning sign posted, motorists sometimes attempt to traverse the path and usually end up stuck at the bottom of the hill.
It’s not a matter of just money, but of protecting property interests, Photiadis said. There’s a clause in the homeowners association’s governing rules that allows a developer to buy back property at 82% of the selling price if it isn’t developed within two years of it being purchased, he said.
Robert Brinck, president of Canyonlands Homeowners Association, said that since Photiadis has chosen to pursue the matter in court, he’d be unable to respond to questions for this story.
After filing a lawsuit, Photiadis offered a settlement in 2020. Under the proposal, he would pay the association $20,000, which is the equivalent of 34 years of dues. In exchange, he asked that his property at the bottom of the ravine be reserved as green space and that future development would be forbidden on the site.
Photiadis said the offer was refused.
Attorney John Kraft represents the homeowners association in the lawsuit, which remains open in Floyd Circuit Court. He said Friday he wouldn’t comment on a potential settlement.
Kraft said Photiadis “filed a lawsuit, he’s asked the court to make a decision, but he’s turned every direction besides the court to ask for a decision.”
Kraft said Photiadis had contacted the state’s attorney general and asked other officials to consider the matter, but to no avail.
“I won’t comment and try a case in the press when he’s asked the court to try it in the court,” Kraft said. “It appears that he doesn’t want to try it in the courts. He’s trying to look to every other avenue that he can.”
Photiadis conceded that based on state law, property owners in his position are left with few options. He said homeowner associations are given too much power, and that Floyd County government should never have included parcels like his within the subdivision when approving it over a decade ago.
It doesn’t make sense to attach property that can’t be developed and should be green space into a subdivision, and thus, allowing it to be controlled by a homeowners association, Photiadis said. Associations also shouldn’t be allowed to charge adjacent property owners fees without providing maintenance for the infrastructure if they’re not maintaining it, he continued.
Last month, Photiadis sent emails to State Sen. Ron Grooms and State Rep. Ed Clere about the issue. He said Thursday both offices acknowledged receiving the emails, but he hadn’t heard directly from either official.
“In my case, I request something that should be inherent in HOA laws,” Photiadis wrote in the letters. “That a home/property owner, be allowed to petition their county, to remove the restrictions of an HOA, if that home/property owner can demonstrate that the HOA is providing no service or product for the dues it is receiving, or the restrictions it is imposing on the property.”