Baguio land developer rapped anew

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BAGUIO CITY – Publicly-Listed Land developer Sta. Lucia Realty and Development Corporation again drew regulatory sanctions from the Department of Housing Services and Urban Development, Cordillera Administrative Region, for levying and collecting fees, “contrary to law” from subdivision homeowners at the Pinewoods Golf and Country Estates complex that the company developed in the mid-90’s.

The unusual tirade comes just three months when mayor Benjamin B. Magalong chided officials of SLRDC for “failing to deliver development commitments made 28 years ago” when it applied for and was granted a development permit to build and develop its over 200-hectare golf course and country residences in an area straddling Baguio and Tuba, Benguet.

Last week, in a March 24, 2021 hearing conducted by the Tuba Municipal Council, attended by SLRDC permit and licensing officer Atty. Jerry Dela Cruz ,  the DHSUD regional office represented by Sirwyn Montera, OIC for homeowners association matters, it was disclosed that the land developer has conducted acts contrary to law when subdivision residents were assessed and collected “Security and Maintenance Fees” for services that are Sta Lucia’s sole responsibility to provide as developer, while development projects remain unfinished and subdivision operations not yet turned over to a homeowners association.”

Council hearing transcripts show that “Sta. Lucia has been assessing and collecting from Pinewoods subdivision residents a fixed rate of P2 per square meter for lots with houses built on, and P1 per square meter for lots with no houses built upon them. The fees collected from residents are supposedly for “Security and Maintenance” dues per subdivision home and lot owner.” Collections for payment were done since 2019.

“This is contrary to law,” said DHSUD’s Sirwyn Montera, who represented regional director Mary Amoroso. He cited Section 27 of PD 957, the presidential decree that prescribes protection to subdivision and condominium buyers nationwide, which states that “no owner or developer shall levy upon any lot or unit buyer a fee for an alleged community benefit.”

The DHSUD official added that the same provision states that “fees to finance services for common comfort, security and sanitation may be collected only by property-organized homeowners association and only with the consent of the majority of the lot or unit buyers actually residing in the subdivision or condominium project.”

Depending on the lot size, subdivision residents have been paying an average annual fee of P6,000 to P12,000 per assessed members. The SL-developed subdivision has about 73 homeowners actually residing in the property and about 300 lot owners who are spread out either as fairway lots (proximate to the golf course) that have remained unbuilt upon, while the rest of the lots are in the interior sections of the subdivision.

Last January, the land developer came under fire when Mayor Magalong brought out alleged unfulfilled commitments of Sta Lucia on housing, water supply, and security issues. This is why complaints have continuously been raised with national and local government agencies by residents in the Pinewoods subdivision with national and local regulatory agencies, the mayor lamented in disappointment.

Discussing the development concerns with Mr. Exequiel Robles, the SLRDC president, the mayor took to task the snail-paced action taken by the company in fulfilling development commitments over water supply, peace and order, socialized housing, and amenities that were avowed when government development permits were granted in the late 90s.

In that same zoom conference meeting, Regional Director Mary Amoroso of the Department of Human Settlement and Urban Development informed the attendees that the permit to sell granted to the realty firm was cancelled last November, 2017 in view of selling operations that ignored regulatory procedures and permit processes.

“Your company is on the verge of being blacklisted by the agency for the company’s reported failure to act on the raised legitimate issues and concerns that caused the cancellation, Director Amoroso told Mr. Robles.

SLRDC’s alleged collection of subdivision and maintenance fees from subdivision residents as being “contrary to law” caught by surprise the officials of the Pinewoods Homeowners Association who claimed having been misled by Sta. Lucia and a property manager, RS Property Management Inc. in undertaking functions that were solely SLRDC’s responsibility.

“Clearly, the law is explicit in stating that the developer (Sta. Lucia) cannot levy fees for an alleged community service, as it is solely responsible in securing and maintaining the subdivision, while its full management and operation is not yet turned over to a homeowners association,” the association officials remarked.

In his January 2021 meeting with Mr. Robles, Mayor Magalong minced no words in expressing his deep concern that lingering issues including the socialized housing requirement for the development did not push through and remains an unfulfilled development requirement for the Baguio-Tuba project.

He also called the attention of SLDRC officials over the unanswered letter communications sent to Sta. Lucia in the last 3 months, regarding the city plan to acquire right of way within the subdivision for government personnel to use in building a city government project outside the subdivision. He also disclosed that the city planned to set up a sewage treatment facility at the perimeter fringes of the subdivision property of the realty firm.

“This would have spared Sta. Lucia the cost of putting up the facility that DENR would have required as part of the environmentally protective measures in the area for the treatment and discharge of water wastes,” Magalong said.

“I am giving due notice to Sta. Lucia to act on the unserved development commitments in the subdivision and respond to pressing issues on peace and order and water supply,” he then declared, adding that “I will not hesitate to cancel the building permit and other clearances issued in the construction project of the company along Leonard Wood Road.”

The Tuba municipal council invited SLRDC, DHSUD and other concerned agencies to provide forum for a request of barangay communities adjacent to the subdivision for access passage of their residents and farm workers needing easy transport of goods and services. The SLRDC official acceded to subsidizing access regulations fees that the homeowners association imposed to secure the subdivision and make Pinewoods residents better served for their safety and protection.

The homeowners group has reported illegal intrusions and property crimes in 2020, documenting 13 incidents of break-in and robberies throughout the year. This prompted the enforcement of regulations to tighten up security within the subdivision, based on lawful protection measures allowed under a Supreme Court jurisprudence that upholds a “No ID, No Sticker, No Entry” policy for subdivision residency.

The development project is also being confronted with some cases that were filed by the heirs of Tunged for the same have allegedly intruded into the ancestral claim of the Ibaloi family thereby depriving them of their rights over their claims in the said area. By Dexter A. See