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VMs Decry Delayed Self-Help on Abandoned Greens Home

On Jan. 14 Voting Members (VMs) gathered for the first time since September at a meeting that saw VMs decry the WCA’s failure to address an abandoned home in The Greens.

After the 21 VMs approved their September meeting’s minutes and heard a guest promote the March 5K being held by World of Beer, Westchase Community Association (WCA) President Nancy Sells asked VMs to review the Amended Variance Committee Rules and Regulations. She stated the changes would bring the Variance Committee’s procedures in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act. VMs reviewed the information and quickly and unanimously voted to approve them. Among other changes, the amended procedures lift the fee previously levied on homeowners who filed for variances.

The Variance Committee hears appeals of Modification Committee denials when the matters relate to health and safety.

WCA Director Joaquin Arrillaga, a member of the WCA committee that has been meeting with the developer of a proposed Costco at Westchase’s eastern entrance, updated VMs on the committee’s work. While he reassured VMs that the committee has no approval power, he stated its members shared their concerns with the developer and will report their conclusions back to the WCA board. The board then may take a position on the project’s related rezoning request.

Arrillaga stated that the builder is proposing to add a traffic light where the gas station sits at the intersection of Old Linebaugh Avenue and Sheldon Road. He added the developer originally wanted three access points into their plaza from Sheldon Road but the committee was able to bring the plan down to just one. The committee has also asked that they use parking lot lights similar in appearance to West Park Village’s street lights. The committee has also asked that building plans incorporate bricks into the structures’ facades and requested that property signs be constructed similar to those used at Westchase entrances. Arrillaga said, “We tried to address with the builder that this is the front door to our community and we want [him to improve] aesthetics and to minimize traffic.”

Arrillaga added that the project is preferable to an apartment complex or a Walmart and stated that Costco does not open for business until 10 a.m. on weekdays and is not open 24 hours. When VM Kathy Carlsen (Glencliff) inquired about the potential for Linebaugh’s widening, both Arrillaga and VM Ruben Collazo (The Shires), a fellow committee member, reassured her that the matter was not being considered and was not negotiable. Arrillaga also explained that the Costco developer will be making a rezoning request with the county in February after presenting finalized plans for the project to residents earlier that month.

VMs then turned to legal issues concerning vacant homes facing foreclosure in Westchase. WCA attorney Jon Ellis explained the legal process of foreclosure the association must follow and specifically addressed an abandoned property at 10421 Greenhedges Dr. in The Greens.

Ellis described the association’s legal process after homeowners fail to pay the WCA’s annual assessments, running from collection letters, liens and finally foreclosure. He explained that the process filings can take several months. In some cases, he added, it does no good for the WCA to file a foreclosure or spend time on a home when they know a bank holding the home mortgage is also going to foreclose. (The bank’s claim takes precedent over the association’s.) Ellis said that his firm is usually very timely with the letters and filings and frequently watches to make sure court dates are set.

Turning to The Greens home, Ellis said the property at 10421 Greenhedges Dr. was a foreclosure that was filed by the bank back in 2009. According to a document written by VM Gerald Pappa (The Greens) and included in VMs’ packets, the Greens property has been abandoned since 2009 without heating or cooling within the structure. Ellis responded that home’s foreclosure wait has been on the long side but some foreclosure cases in Florida have fallen into the four to five year range. He added, “We have filed our action in 2013 to institute the foreclosure of that property for failure to pay those assessments.”

Ellyne Myers, who owns the property next door to The Greens home and who stated she has been struggling to sell her own home, asked, “Why didn’t we follow the foreclosure process back in 2012?”

Ellis responded, “The bank cancelled the sale.” He added, “The sale is set to take place on [Jan 24]. The unit owners had a bankruptcy. When you have a bankruptcy, it can delay it anywhere from six to 24 months, depending on what is happening in the bankruptcy.”

Ellis proceeded to explain the WCA’s self-help policy. The policy, previously approved by the WCA board, provides the association the ability to enforce its deed restrictions by going onto the properties of abandoned homes to cut back landscaping and overgrown yards and address other issues of health and safety. Ellis explained that there can be problems with self-help, as it enhances liability for the association. Because of potential liability, the association won’t address any home that’s occupied and also limits its intervention largely to yard work. Further the association cannot recoup any self-help costs.

Ellis added, “If you put a roof on, you have to guarantee its installation.”

Pappa interrupted Ellis. “I am a 15 year resident and part of the voting members for more than 12 years. People have come and gone. I am not discounting or taking objection to most of what you are saying but I am taking exception [and stating] that the HOA has blown it.”

Pappa continued. “On that street you have houses that sell for $400K to $600K. It is appalling that we have allowed five years to go by. This house hasn’t had heating or air for five years.”

Referring to Myers, Pappa stated, “This lady has been trying to sell her house for quite some time.” Using a vulgarity to describe the abandoned home, Pappa emphasized it had clearly impacted her. 

Pappa said he had previously raised a concern about the economic downturn and recommended the association set up a reserve to deal with abandoned properties. “When I said that we better get ahead of the curve, I was told that this wasn’t a voting member issue. It was a board issue. The board would deal with it.”

Implying the board had failed to do so, Pappa continued. “The WCA has an obligation to the homeowners that live in this community. They deserve better than to have put up with this nonsense.” He added, “There are eight violations on this property. It needs to be power washed and repainted. It is not fair for anyone to put up with this when they bought into Westchase. I think that we as a community need to find a way to keep ourselves whole.”

VM Carlos Quiros (Villas of WPV) added, “I remember the self-help [policy] that came out for the first time because of a house in Glencliff. It was abandoned.” Quiros added, “The association put some money into the house and it sold. It surprises me that this has been going on for five years. Self-help should have been done. I agree with Gerry that we have to take a more active position. I would like to see that this doesn’t happen again.”

VM Shaney Nadel (Wycliff) remarked, “I agree with Carlos that we need to take a more proactive stance. These are like dirty little secrets. We need to bring these more to the forefront and maybe we will get some investors. I don’t think we need to raise our assessments. We have a lot of investors within the community that might be interested. We need to make it easy for people to see the status of the houses.”

VM Mary Griffin (Single Family Homes of West Park Village), a former WCA director like Quiros, also decried the delay in action. “Self-help should have worked. It is very clear that on this house, the self-help [policy] wasn’t followed. Maybe the board needs to raise the [budgeted] limit. I can’t believe that five years have gone by. We have a very good policy on the books.”

As the discussion wrapped up, WCA President Nancy Sells, who chairs VM meetings, closed by saying, “This is on the February agenda of the board meeting for discussion."

Concluding the meeting, Sells reminded the group that e-mails to their fellow VMs or to the WCA offices should only be for WCA business.

The meeting adjourned at 8:41 p.m.

By Brenda Bennett

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