EAST COUNTY — In a surprising and contentious move, Lennar Homes announced it will turn over the Stoneybrook homeowners association to residents by the end of the year after more than a decade in control.
Lennar, the developer of Heritage Harbour and the communities within it, including Stoneybrook, cited a persistent push from a group of residents eager to wrestle control away, as the impetus for its decision to hand over the Stoneybrook’s homeowners association.
A Lennar representative, Tony Burdett, traveled from Fort Myers to the Stoneybrook homeowners association meeting Sept. 17 to make the announcement.
Dennis Colletti, owner of ICON Management Services, which manages the homeowners association, arranged for an audit firm, Stroemer & Co., to attend the meeting to inform Stoneybrook residents how such a transition might a occur.
But there was no indication the turnover was imminent until Burdett — referencing a “threatening” letter from a group of residents calling for the developer’s departure — spoke at the start of the meeting.
“We are sad we are transitioning now,” said Burdett, who did not provide a date for the transition but said it would occur by the end of the year. “We were trying to help the homeowners association through a lawsuit. A small group of residents demanded turnover based on inaccurate information. Quite frankly, we didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”
Rob Bloom, co-creator of a task force made up of residents who sent Lennar a letter demanding its departure, expressed modest cheer now that the transition is imminent.
“I’m happy we get to control our own destiny,” Bloom said. “But a lot of residents are afraid. I am afraid. There is a fear factor of the unknown.”
Tom Bakalar of the homeowners association’s advisory council, which assists in running Stoneybrook, worries about the timing of Lennar’s departure.
“Many of us don’t want them to leave at this time,” Bakalar said. “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.”
The main point of contention regarding the delayed turnover — and the worries about its timing — come from a Sept. 12, 2012, lawsuit regarding a piece of land outside Stoneybrook’s gates that Lennar once owned.
In early 2008, Lennar had planned to add the site — known as Moore’s Dairy — to Heritage Harbour, extending Stoneybrook east to Upper Manatee River Road.
Heritage Harbour Development, the property’s former owner, defaulted on a $10.5 million revolving line of credit in September 2010. The company, owned by attorney Ronald Black, of Maitland, purchased the land for $8.7 million in early 2005.
In May 2011, the bank foreclosed on the property before reselling the land to Upper Manatee 288 LLC, a Bradenton company managed by developer Carlos Beruff, of Medallion Home, for $4.7 million.
Beruff outbid Lennar for it.
Beruff’s company sued Stoneybrook’s HOA and others, including Heritage Harbour’s Master Association, Lennar Homes and Manatee County, seeking re-foreclosure because the original document did not name Stoneybrook and the master’s association.
Lennar considers the still-undeveloped property as part of Stoneybrook and, because of that, it contends the community is not 90% developed.
Under state law, homeowners associations must give control to residents three months after 90% of the community has been developed.
“People think of Stoneybrook as this standalone community,” Burdett said. “That’s not the case. So, 90% of the planned homes have not been completed. These are unusual circumstances. We consider this an early turnover.”
Burdett said Lennar planned to keep control of Stoneybrook until the lawsuit settled because it believed it could save residents money.
Asked to comment, Beruff said the suit is three to four months away from being settled.
Some Stoneybrook residents, like Bakalar, had hoped Burdett would stay longer, making for a more settled transition.
“Time would have resolved this,” Bakalar said. “My preference would have been to let this ride out because now there is potentially some exposure for us.”
As outlined in an Aug. 14 letter an attorney, on behalf of Bloom, sent to Lennar, residents Kevin Burke and George Najmy believe the developer had held on to Stoneybrook long enough.
“We were not easily intimidated,” Bloom said. “Some hid behind a frail shell to have mommy continue to take care of them. We’ve already been waiting. Lennar should follow the law.”
The hard feelings matter little now.
Many want the community to put tension aside and collaborate — among themselves and with the resident-controlled Heritage Harbour South Community Development District — to shape Stoneybrook’s future.
“I hope we can put our egos in our pockets and work together,” said Bakalar, noting he shares a home state, Connecticut, with Burke, of the “opposition.”
From here, Lennar will send out a notice announcing the date and time of an official turnover meeting, during which the developer will officially resign from the board.
Residents can apply to run for the homeowners association board at that time.
The board will be selected at the turnover meeting.
Tricia Burke, a newer Stoneybrook resident, hopes it will all bring fresh change.
“Some people don’t like change, because there is an uncertainty, but change doesn’t have to be negative; it can also be a positive,” Burke said. “It can provide an opportunity. We are a great community. We can do this.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].