The developer of the University Park housing development in Northeast Washington is Stanley Halle Communities Inc. The development firm was misidentified in an article in Monday's editions.
It was 5 in the morning, one day in March 1981, when Mattie Jackson smelled something burning in her 4-month-old home on Varnum Place NE. Her three children were asleep upstairs.
Jackson called the fire department, and then called her husband Lawrence, who was working a night shift. After what seemed like an eternity, the fire department called back.
" 'Lady, there is no such address,' they told her," Lawrence Jackson recalled. More than half an hour later, the fire trucks found the Jacksons' house.
There is still no record of Varnum Place on the official maps of Washington D.C., because of a lag of up to two years in getting a new street recorded. That, say residents of the University Park housing development between the Fort Totten and Brookland Metrorail stations, is one of the least of their problems.
Many of the 180 families who spent in the neighborhood of $70,000 for homes in the development, built by Halle Enterprises Inc. on land bought from nearby Catholic University, have been living without curbs, gutters, home mail delivery, street lighting and fire boxes for up to three years.
The residents blame the developer and the city for a continued lack of services and improvements since the first units were sold in 1977. Developer Stanley Halle says he has done all he is required to do -- and the city, accused of dragging its feet, says it is only following its own rules.
"Seems like University Park is a Pandora's Box because as soon as anyone opens the cover of the park, they close it with excuses," said Lawrence Jackson.
According to the residents, one of the largest problems is the condition of the streets. The roadways are unimproved gravel and dirt, and in most of the development curbs and gutters have not been built. The result is large potholes, yards creeping into the street, and inconvenient on-street parking.
According to the D.C. Department of Transportation's office for construction and maintenance, neither the city nor the developer is legally required to finish the streets. To have them finished, 51 percent of the residents on each block must petition the city for the roadwork and must agree to pay one-half the cost of the work -- estimated at $1,000 for each University Park family.
"This is the only city I know that does it this way," Stanley Halle said of the roadwork in a recent telephone interview, "but it is not my requirement to put in streets and things. If it were, the cost of my houses would go up."
Residents say that the unfinished roads, with their numerous potholes, are hazardous and cause undue wear and tear on their cars. In addition, they say, the condition of the streets is unsightly.
"I don't care about sidewalks," said Delores Brown, a computer specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who has lived at University Park for two years. "I just want a street, not this thing looking like Lebanon."
Residents assert that they were misled -- a charge Halle strenuously denies.
"My family and I went to their model home at McQuillum Associates on Buchanan Street NE , and while looking at it the representative for University Park at that time told us directly and with no hesitation or equivocation that when our house came up we would have curbs and gutters," said Jackson, who spent more than $70,000 for his newly-built home in 1980.
Other residents said they were drawn to a picture on the wall of the model home, which showed the finished development. "It was very eye-catching and appealing, very pretty. That was one of the reasons that I went ahead and purchased," said Sheila Poole, who bought her home in December 1979.
Halle responded last week that there was no attempt to deceive the buyers and he had never shown a picture depicting curbs and gutters. "There was never any pretense," he said.
City officials said it takes at least two years for the required roadwork to be done after the residents submit their petitions and agree to accept half the cost. Some University Park residents said they were unaware of the process; others, recent arrivals, look forward to at least two years of gravel and mud before having to pay to have paved roads and concrete curbs.
"Those people never chose to ask questions about their house," said Mario Guglielmi, head of special projects for DOT's office of construction and maintenance. "Would you spend $60,000 without asking any questions?"
"It never occurred to us and to our lawyers to ask because we thought the area would not permit a developer to come in there and do things like that," said resident Frances Burge, who bought her University Park home in 1979.
Residents also charge that the poor condition of the roadways is partially a function of the development's being built on a spring, resulting in sub-basement flooding, shifting yards, and premature foundation settlement cracks.
"You know what's underneath this?" asked Poole, born and raised in the Brookland area, as she pointed to the floor. "Brooks and streams. That's why it is called Brookland. When I was small we used to call it 'frog town.' "
University Park residents have an additional problem: no home mail delivery for some residents, who must go to the Brookland Post Office for their mail.
According to a Postal Service official, the post office is not required to provide door-to-door service for new homes unless they are built between existing houses. It is usually more cost-effective to build cluster boxes, like rural route boxes, for mail distribution.
"The developers all know what kind of delivery there is going to be . . . They the homebuyers are supposed to be notified by the developer," said Postal Service spokesman George Conrad.
Halle said the postal service's policy of limiting new door-to-door service began after the University Park development was already under way. "I can't control the federal government," he said.
Halle said recently that he had not had any real complaints about his homes. "Everyone is happy with them," he said.