As we look back across our three decades as a community, we can see that Stonebridge Ranch has weathered a number of changes, some of them quite significant. One of the earliest occurred in the late 80’s. That’s when the original investors in the land that would become Stonebridge Ranch faced the real estate downturn which culminated in the Savings and Loan crisis. This crisis affected many holding groups, including the one which had envisioned a premier new master-planned community here in McKinney. Soon, ownership of the nascent association transferred from the Savings and Loan investors who had backed the developers to the Resolution Trust Corporation (a national governmental agency). Next, the land was sold to Mobil Land Corp, a division of Mobile Oil.
The year was 1991, and Mobile Land began researching professional management companies which could help take Stonebridge Ranch from a vision on paper to a vital and stable community standing the test of time. They found what they were looking for in RTI/Community Management Associates, Inc. “CMA”, spearheaded by Judi Phares, President & CEO. Of the many people who have worked to ensure the stability of Stonebridge Ranch over the past 30 years, Judi is one of the longest-serving and most influential.
When Mobile Land first brought CMA on board, Judi had been in business for eight years and was working tirelessly to establish her company’s reputation in the Dallas Metro area. Already, she was becoming known for the values that are still integral to the company’s culture, including a commitment to honesty, integrity, and a clarity of mission. As one of her early clients told her, they decided to hire CMA because Judi was the only management company leader who personally came to their office (which was then housed in a trailer on land under development) and proceeded to ask them a list of prescient questions about the plans for the community they were building. She laughs to recall: “That was back in the days when we had to write everything down on paper! I had all my questions handwritten on a little notepad.”
Of those early days surrounding the association’s incorporation, Judi has nothing but praise for the people who were working to build this community. “You know, the Mobile Land staff really cared,” she says. “They wanted to create a long-term, first-class, deluxe offering. The intent of the concept team was not only to protect their company’s investment, but to build a truly healthy, long-lasting association.”
To that end, Judi and the CMA team helped Mobile Land weather an early, but crucial, storm. The community’s original governing documents prescribed the use of tax values in determining annual assessments (that is, each homeowner paid X cents/$100 of estimated value). “But,” says Judi, “all of the financial projections showed that this model just wasn’t feasible. You could do the numbers any which way, and you could see it just wouldn’t work. So one of the first strategic things we had to do was meet with the homeowners and tell them why their original documents would bankrupt their association, which would negatively impact their property values.”
“It’s important for us to listen to homeowners and volunteers and staff members, and to thank them. I’ve been able to serve side-by-side with so many people over the years, all of us working hard to give this community a long future. And it’s a beautiful feeling to be part of that history. To remember 30 years ago what we were struggling to build, and now to see that the vision has become a reality.”
The CMA staff created a video explaining the difference between the tax value assessment system and the flat rate system, which takes into account actual operating costs. “We held a lot of coffee groups and showed that video,” says Judi. “We were there to answer homeowner questions, and we worked so hard. Because of that, I personally got to know many of the original homeowners, and that is one reason Stonebridge Ranch has stayed so close to my heart.” (CMA currently manages over 240 associations, of which Stonebridge Ranch is one of the largest.)
Her eyes sparkle when she remembers overcoming that early hurdle. “Those were exciting times. We helped take the Association from being unhealthy to healthy financially. And what we learned was that if you approach the situation with honesty, and if you speak from the heart, even if the truth isn’t easy to swallow, people can accept change.” The homeowners went on to vote for an update to the governing documents, in favor of annually assessing a flat rate to each new home that was built going forward. The original homes, they decided, would remain as tax-value lots until they were sold to the next owner. Upon sale, each property would transfer to the flat-rate assessment system. Today, only about 600 of the 9,300+ homes in Stonebridge Ranch are still assessed based on their taxed value. Eventually, there will be no tax value lots in the community.
Through all the changes, Judi has been on hand to see what has remained the same. “You know, in the early days, McKinney was a very small town. The residents bought homes here because they liked being away from the city—but with the city accessible. They loved the peace and beauty. And those things are still here. My heart always sings when I drive into Stonebridge Ranch. Just like today’s residents, the earliest homeowners were attracted to this lifestyle. This community had the only beach for miles. The amenities were great for families with kids.”
Judi has long been involved nationally with her professional association and with other management companies, learning about and establishing best practices, becoming familiar with legislation related to homeowner’s associations, and also giving speeches to her colleagues. “I’ve traveled a lot and worked with a lot of associations,” she says. “And do you know what’s special about Stonebridge Ranch? When I meet people who live here and ask them where they’re from, they tell me the name of this community first, not the name of their city. That means they really like where they live.”
CMA was also on hand during another crucial period in Stonebridge Ranch history, when the community switched from developer to homeowner control in 2008. “The transition was fun,” says Judi. “You see the interest of the homeowners in their association, you see people taking a leadership role, and you see their world open up to what an association can be. It’s been great working with so many board members over the years. Most people don’t understand how complex an association is—all the nuances of the decisions that need to be made.”
Yes, she adds: “volunteer homeowners and professional staff don’t always agree, but we know we all have the same intent. We are here to protect property values. A home is the biggest investment most Americans make. It’s at the heart of the American soul. And now that Stonebridge Ranch is a mature community, the other piece of the puzzle is keeping life here fresh, to keep committees engaged, and to support vibrancy through events and things that connect residents.”
Of CMA’s own longstanding relationship with Stonebridge Ranch, Judi notes: “It helps that we know that we can grow and continue to learn. It’s really powerful to say, ‘I don’t know everything.’ It’s important for us to listen to homeowners and volunteers and staff members, and to thank them. I’ve been able to serve side-by-side with so many people over the years, all of us working hard to give this community a long future. And it’s a beautiful feeling to be part of that history. To remember 30 years ago what we were struggling to build, and now to see that the vision has become a reality.”
Judi can’t say which one is her favorite Stonebridge Ranch memory from the last three decades, for there are many. But she smiles as her voice trails off. “I think of the children’s faces at the tree lighting activities over the years…. I think of residents I’ve worked with hugging me when they see me. Those are the ‘wow’ moments. It’s gratifying if I’ve been able to help.”
Communications Coordinator for the Stonebridge Ranch Homeowner’s Association