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VMs Debate Yard Trees and Religious Flags

The Nov. 10 Westchase Voting Members meeting started with removal of a neighborhood’s Voting Member (VM) and its alternate before turning to a debate over WCA rules.

The Westchase Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCRs) provide for the removal of a VM that misses three consecutive meetings or six meetings in a year. Citing the rule, VMs removed the Classic Townhomes VM and its alternate.

VMs also quickly unanimously approved for a guideline change for the Townhomes of West Park Village neighborhood-specific exterior paint palette for body colors.

Next, VM Ralph Caputo, (Abbottsford) led the group in extensive discussion about the tree requirement guideline for Westchase homes. One of his residents was recently cited for violation of the tree guideline even though she has not changed her yard in 15 years. She had received a letter from the association saying that she needed to plant additional trees to replace a tree that had been removed 15 years ago. Caputo explained that oak trees had caused the side walk to lift up and planting more oaks would cause additional problems.

VM Cynde Mercer (The Bridges) explained that our tree guidelines were built on the county requirements. “We need trees to shade the ground and prevent moisture evaporation. I’ve been through this in my neighborhood. The oak trees are tearing up the sidewalk but if you research the guidelines, there are trees that don’t have root systems that will wreck your plumbing.”

Caputo replied that the homeowner had planted a robellini palm tree that provided plenty of shade but that there wasn’t room to plant another tree.

Westchase Community Association (WCA) President Joaquin Arrillaga explained the reason that the homeowner had just now received the violation was that as Westchase turned 20 years old, the board increased violation inspections to catch ones that may have been overlooked in the past.

VM Nancy Sells (Harbor Links/The Estates) asked, “Has she been given suggestions like crepe myrtles that don’t have root systems?”

Caputo replied, “Yes, she has, but she likes the way her yard looks and she has had it this way for 15 years.”

VM Ruben Collazo (Shires) observed, “This is a tough one and I am very sympathetic. She is petitioning us to grant an exemption and we can’t do that.”

Alternate VM Mary Griffin (Single Family Homes of West Park Village) added, “We have this problem with a lot of homes. Lots of people are complaining about it.” Griffin, however, added, “We would have to vote an exception for her and then we would have 25 more homes that would want it.”

Referring to Caputo’s observation that the matter was unfair, Griffin stated, “Many of the Florida statutes are unfair but we have to follow them. There is no such thing as leniency. The developer here did not voluntarily plant the two trees in each lot.”

VM Patrick O’Brien (Glenfield) suggested a policy of allowing something to continue if it existed for a period of time, for example five continuous years with no objections.

Concluding discussion, Arrillaga suggested that the item could be put on hold until January, when the Document Review Committee gathers together to review potential changes.

VM Don Costello (Stamford) agreed with this suggestion. “There is precedent for putting something on hold while the board studies it,” he said. “For example, basketball hoops. It can be done.”

The next agenda item caused the most contentious discussion. Terry Dutton, of Chelmsford, said that he was going to paint his home and was looking through the Residential Guidelines related to house colors and happened upon Section 1.3.4, which in part reads that flags or banners shall not be obscene, offensive, political, religious or commercial in nature. 

“Saying something is religiously oriented is not specific,” stated Dutton. “For example, the pope was visiting, I would have loved to put out the papal flag. My question is: How do you define religious orientation?”

Griffin asked, “I can hang up an ISIS flag. Would anyone like that?”

Dutton asked, “I can’t fly a flag at Easter that says Happy Easter and I can’t fly a flag at Christmas that says Merry Christmas?”

Sells (Harbor Links/The Estates) responded, “We’ve all seen people put nativity scenes up for the holidays as part of their decorations.”

When Costello asked him what flag he wanted to fly, Dutton responded, “It’s about freedom of expression. Freedom of people to express their religion. If somebody has a strong belief in their religion, they can fly a flag whenever they want and not just on the holidays.”

When Collazo asked him what he wanted VMs to do, Dutton replied, “Let the community at large decide this issue.”

Arrillaga closed the matter by stating he would refer the issue to the Documents Review Committee. “I will make sure that they communicate with you,” he stated to Dutton, “And of course, it will be reviewed by the lawyers”.

When Arrillaga asked for any questions for the board, O’Brien said that the county had a temporary sewage pump obstructing people and causing them to walk near traffic south of Glenfield Avenue. Arrillaga said he would speak with the Community Development District (CDD) about it.

WCA Director Joe Odda also provided the group with an update on repaving. He said that the county deliberation on the budget began with $7.5 to $8 million dollars allocated towards resurfacing but Commissioner Sandy Murman had asked for it to be tripled to $23 to $24 million.

Odda stated that Arrillaga and he would meet with Murman and Public Works Director John Lyons on Nov. 16  after WOW’s deadline. Odda remarked, “We have provided them with a list of priorities. We have been assured by Commissioner Murman that our streets are going to be fixed. We are going to discuss that and will report back to you.”

Closing the meeting was a very emotional announcement by VM Carlos Quiros (Villas of West Park Village). Quiros announced that it was to be his last Westchase Voting Members meeting.

Quiros has been a VM and active association volunteer for 15 years, including a stint at the WCA President. Everyone applauded Quiros’ many devoted years of service.

VMs adjourned at 8:01 p.m.

By Brenda Bennett

Posted: 17 Nov 2015

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