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East County Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 7 years ago

Ranch HOA adds clarity to yard-item regulations

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

SUMMERFIELD — After a meeting last week, the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association Restrictions Revisions Committee will not be recommending changes to the community’s rule regarding the number of decorative yard items allowed per residence.

However, it is making several other changes to benefit homeowners.

“We’re going to leave the three (item) limit,” committee chairman Bob Swiatek said. “It’s consistent with other (HOAs) in Lakewood Ranch. Nobody saw any need (to change it). What we have done is to make it a little clearer that fountains, bird baths and benches are not included in those three, but (homeowners) would be limited to one with approval from the modifications committee.”

The committee’s recommendations, derived at a meeting Aug. 3, will be presented to the SRVA board next month for consideration.

The decorative yard item rule has been a subject of debate since Summerfield resident Joani Ellis in February began receiving a $50 a day fine for having too many decorations in her front yard. Ellis, who says her “pristine” property had remained the same since she bought it, has since hired an attorney to fight the charges, arguing the rule is being selectively enforced against her and the association has passed the statute of limitations for enforcement. (See related story below).

Ellis, who attended the Aug. 3 meeting at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, made several recommendations to the rules committee, including allowing more than three decorative items or placing items more than 10 feet from the home, if approved by the committee. Homeowners would have to provide a color picture of the item they wished to add.

Current rules prohibit more than three decorative items, which include rocks, and placing any decorations more than 10 feet from the home.

Ellis also suggested changes regarding a restriction to have overnight street parking that would have allowed guests to park overnight at Town Hall or the Lakewood Ranch Information Center at Summerfield Park if they notify security. She also suggested wording that homeowners must be “able” to park at least one vehicle in the garage, instead of requiring them to do so.

“I’m glad the committee was open-minded and listened to suggestions,” Ellis said. “I wish more homeowners had suggested the rules changes that they have spoken to me about.”

Although the committee did not accept all of Ellis’ suggestions, it did adopt her recommendation that decorative items should be in “earth tone” colors rather than the shades of brown, gray and white currently allowed. The change will give homeowners more options by allowing green hues and other colors, Swiatek said.

The definition of decorative item has been modified to show the difference between a decorative rock and a stepping stone, which must be a flat surface, he said.

Other changes being brought forth by the rules committee include allowing garbage cans that meet Waste Management’s criteria, rather than limiting them to 34 gallons in size, and to allow pergolas, which currently are prohibited.

Widening driveways to the width of the garage, in cases where the driveways are narrow, will be allowed, as well. And the requirement to park a vehicle in the garage has been removed, Swiatek said.

Swiatek said the board would bring suggested modifications to members of the SRVA board at their next meeting, at which board members will decide what changes to adopt.

If approved, the changes will go into effect in January, Swiatek said.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

Since February, Summerfield resident Joani Ellis has accrued thousands of dollars in HOA fines for having too many decorations in her front yard.

But early last month, she removed the items that violated the HOA’s regulations. Her fines, however, are still accruing, according to a document sent by Summerfield/Riverwalk Homeowner Association attorney Stephen Thompson.

In a letter dated July 19 to Ellis’ attorney, Dan Lobeck, Thompson writes he had received notice from the HOA that Ellis removed the items in question, and he had received Lobeck’s demand for the association to rescind its enforcement fines and restore Ellis’ membership to her neighborhood committee.

However, Thompson also asked Lobeck to confirm Ellis has no intention of putting the controversial items back.

“Upon your written confirmation that these items will be permanently removed, I will advise the association to stop the fine,” Thompson wrote.

Ellis said she has received no letter saying her fines have been stopped.

In The East County Observer’s review of SRVA’s homeowner’s manual, the document details the process by which violations will be communicated with homeowners as well as the process by which they will be enforced. However, there is no mention of the process by which fines will stop once a violation is corrected.

“It doesn’t say they will stop,” Ellis said of the fines, according to Thompson’s letter. “I think it’s another form of selective enforcement.”

Ellis’ battle with her HOA first began in 2006, when she was fined for having too many yard decorations. The fines, which reached $1,600, stopped accumulating later that year but were never dropped.

Ellis maintains her property has looked the same since she moved into her home more than a decade ago and that the HOA has passed the statute of limitations for enforcing the rule, which limits yard decorations to three. She also believes the rule is being enforced selectively and is working on a lawsuit against SRVA for those reasons.

Fines for her yard decorations resurfaced early this year, and the SRVA compliance committee in February voted Ellis would continue to accrue fines until the problem was corrected.

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