By Jesse Wood
Sept. 11, 2013. A class action lawsuit may be brewing against Capstone Collegiate Communities, the Birmingham-based developer behind The Cottages of Boone, a student housing development just outside of Boone in Watauga County that was scheduled to house all 894 students before the fall semester during the middle of August.
(As of last Saturday, the Watauga County Planning & Inspections department has issued certificates of occupancy for more than half of the buildings and units – including 534 bedrooms. In an email, WCP&I Director Joe Furman said, “There probably won’t any finals for a while; nothing is ready yet.”)
Colleen Ledford, an Asheville-based parent of two students currently living in the development, said on Tuesday that she contacted the Clement Law Office in Boone about pursuing a class-action lawsuit and finding other interested parents and tenants with grievances related to The Cottages of Boone.
“I was hoping to handle this reasonably through The Cottages of Boone, but they haven’t been at all helpful,” Ledford said. “I’ve tried to talk to management, and they don’t seem to care … They insist they are doing everything within their legal rights. I’ve gotten to the point now where I either roll over or fight.”
She said she wasn’t trying to make a bunch of money with this potential lawsuit, however she feels some compensation – perhaps one-half of months rent until the development is finished – is warranted because she is paying a “good chunk of change for substandard living conditions,” which is not the “great experience” that her kids signed up for.
She added that her son lived in a hotel for 10 days initially in August but has since moved in. While she said his living conditions are acceptable – aside from a broken window and a front door that doesn’t fit properly, her daughter is living beside a construction zone with concrete trucks and construction vehicles passing by. She said there is so much dust floating around that she can’t open her window or sit outside on her porch.
“She’s like a prisoner in her own home,” Ledford said. “While I am glad she is in, I don’t think this is acceptable.”
Speaking a couple weeks ago, Watauga County Fire Marshal Steve Sudderth noted how good of a job The Cottages of Boone were doing separating the occupied areas and construction zones. However, Ledford doesn’t agree, noting that the only thing separating her unit from the construction area is a “little fence that’s not really protecting anything.”
She said that she and her husband would be paying leases in excess of $15,000 over the next year and feared breaking the leases because “they may sue us.”
Reached Wednesday morning Charlie Clement of Clement Law Office said he hadn’t spoken with Ledford and declined to comment on the situation.
A Four-Day Notice
Another parent reached out to High Country Press on Tuesday afternoon to voice frustration over how Capstone Collegiate Communities has handled the development thus far.
Unlike Ledford’s children, Judy Grant of Thomasville said her son has yet to be housed in the development and is currently staying in a hotel room. He has actually been one of the lucky ones who has had a hotel room all to himself – rather than holed up two-to-a-room like other tenants.
She said The Cottages of Boone management sent an email saying that her son’s unit would be ready by the first two weeks in November.
“Clearly, the extent of this delay is beyond any of our original anticipations,” the email read, adding that The Cottages of Boone was offering tenants a way out of their leases if they did not want to continue living in a hotel room until their units were completed.
“We are asking that you make every effort to decide which option works best for your situation by 2:00 p.m., Saturday, September 14, 2013. If you elect to cancel your lease, you will need to vacate your hotel by 10:00 a.m., Sunday, September 15, 2013,” the email read.
This irked Grant to no end.
She echoed Ledford’s comments about the lack of communication during the past three months, about The Cottages of Boone not being upfront about the delays and now in the last hour they give the students four days to figure out if they can find another place to live while going to school. She mentioned that The Cottages of Boone’s units came furnished, so that means if they were to move they would have to figure that out as well. She said she can’t afford to take off work to help her son find another place to live and then furnish it.
“I’ve kept my mouth shut the whole time,” Grant said – but not any more. “What really irks me is they are giving the kids four days, tying their hands and demanding a decision by 2 o’clock.”
She added that these kids should not have to be worrying about anything other than studying.
“This has not been a good experience,” Grant concluded. “It’s just so frustrating.”
Principal of Capstone Responds
While a spokesperson for The Cottages of Boone hasn’t returned calls since the delays began to mount earlier this summer, John Vawter Sr., principal of Capstone, answered a phone call to his cell on Wednesday morning.
Asked if he had heard about a potential class action lawsuit against Capstone because of The Cottages of Boone development, Vawter said he would “rather not comment” about that.
Asked if he felt the communication between the company and tenants has been “sufficient,” he responded that “it’s a very complicated equation.”
“We are trying to give as much accurate information to residents and parents as possible,” Vawter said, adding, though, that the relay of information hasn’t been “perfect.”
As for the reasons of the delays, he noted the previous winter weather and the rainy season this summer as being “difficult.”
“The difficult thing is it’s not because of lack of trying or spending all the tremendous resources to try to get it finished. The weather really caused havoc, not only for us, but for our subs,” Vawter said, adding that the “remote” location of Boone has been very challenging from a “site-work standpoint.”
He reiterated how disappointed he is on how the project has progressed thus far.
“Nobody is anymore disappointed than I am, than Capstone is. This is all we do is student housing. If we aren’t good at what we are doing and not making our customers happy that’s not a good business formula,” Vawter said. “So we truly want to make all of these residents happy, and we understand living in a hotel is not an ideal situation.”
In reference to the four-day decision to move out, Vawter replied that he “wants to stick” with that time frame but would be “happy to talk” further if someone isn’t able to make a decision right off the bat.
Read more stories about the trials and tribulations of The Cottages: