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Moffa Attorney Threatens Lawsuit Against WCA

The small Westchase Community Association (WCA) meeting room on Parley Drive was filled to overflowing with pickleball players requesting six dedicated courts at the Jan. 13 meeting of the board. That meeting also saw Attorney Kelly Blum, representing Chelmsford residents Michael and Chelsea Moffa, the Westchase couple whose early Christmas decorating story went viral in December, threatening to take the WCA to court over a fine levied for a different violation, sent prior to their holiday decorating warning.

Opening the meeting Blum stated he was representing Mr. Moffa and stated he was protesting the association’s $1,000 fine for the Moffas’ failure to follow Westchase Residential Guidelines for security cameras. Citing their necessity to address an increase in local crime, Blum argued that the rule, which limits the number of cameras to one per entry door, states that placement of cameras, which must be approved by the Modifications Committee and cannot be pointed in ways that record another neighbor’s property, could be construed as arbitrary. “Their cameras actually helped apprehend several folks facing criminal charges for grand theft auto,” he said, asking why the rule didn’t allow all possible points of entry, including windows.

Blum stated he was authorized to offer a compromise over the nine cameras he stated the Moffas had installed. He stated the Moffas were willing to remove one camera, which they agreed was redundant but would keep the other eight as necessary. Blum then levied a threat to sue if the board didn’t accept the compromise. “He is going to defend. He will likely file a counterclaim. He’s willing to file through appeal,” Blum said, adding the association would spend a lot of money, and that the Moffas would seek depositions of everyone, including committee members who amended the guideline.

Representing the board, WCA Attorney Jonathan Ellis, however, stated, “The fine is not for putting up too many security cameras. The fine was because permission was not sought first.”

Ellis stated that after the Moffas received the first violation for the cameras installed without Modifications Committee approval, Michael Moffa communicated with the office that he would file a Modifications Committee request for the cameras while also threatening to sue the association. After no modification request was received, the WCA sent the Moffas a second letter. The Moffas’ modifications request, Ellis stated, was submitted 20 days after the second letter, after the association levied the $1,000 fine for the lack of Modifications Committee approval. Later the Modifications Committee declined the Moffas’ modifications request for the cameras as failing to follow the guideline.  “Had you looked at it first could. If you just asked first, you could have worked with security camera company to figure out where to put 6 [permitted] cameras,” Ellis said to Blum. He added that Mr. Moffa was essentially telling the board to change the rule or he would sue the association. “But you don’t make the rules,” he added to the board. “The VMs do,” he stated of the community’s neighborhood representatives.

WCA Director Dale Sells, who also chairs the Modifications Committee, responded to Blum, “I’m sorry Mr. Moffa didn’t feel it need it important enough to show up.”

“That’s not what happened,” Blum interrupted, stating he had told Moffa he did not have to attend.

When Sells asked Blum if Moffa was aware when he purchased his home he was moving into a deed restricted community, Blum said he didn’t know. Sells stated the Moffas apparently did know as they had previously submitted five modifications requests for other items, all of which were approved. When Sells asked why the Moffas didn’t submit one for the security cameras, Blum responded, “I’m going to guess,” adding it was likely due to the individuals he described as “scumbags,” who attempted to break into their home, whom he had previously stated the cameras had helped identify and apprehend.

Sells, who chaired the Documents Review Committee that previously amended the security camera guidelines, added that the number of permitted cameras in the guideline was not arbitrary but adopted after the committee consulted a security company. “It was based on advice,” he said.

Addressing Blum’s statement that local crime had risen, WOW’s reporter observed that the magazine had recently published an article on Westchase crime statistics that showed that crime in the community had declined considerably in recent years, and even more so during the pandemic. Blum then suggested that perhaps it was because of the Moffas’ security cameras.

Citing the Moffas’ threat to sue the community association, WCA Director Joaquin Arrillaga then suggested the board not discuss the matter further. “Let’s vote,” he stated.

The board then voted unanimously to deny the Moffas’ fine appeal.

The board then turned to a request, supported by a considerable number of residents in attendance, to permanently convert two dual use tennis/pickleball courts at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center into six pickleball courts. When WCA President Shawn Yesner asked if anyone in attendance was present to oppose the idea, none raised their hands. Yesner, however, cautioned, “I received a bunch of emails from the tennis community,” all of which, he added, were opposed. He stated that league tennis players, who, it was implied had been most vocal, stated it would lengthen tournament play at the site.

Director Eric Holt stated he had pulled data from the association’s court reservations system to weigh the request. “In 2021, from Dec. 1 to Jan. 31, there were 977 member reservations for Courts 1 and 2,” he said of the dual-use courts. “Over 96 percent of reservations for those courts were pickleball related.”

Director Dale Sells cautioned the crowd that the board was often asked to take action by small, vocal minorities. He stated he inquired with Facility Manager Kelly Shires about the breakdown of overall court use and Shires estimated that 10 percent of the time the courts were used by pickleball players, 10 percent by tennis players in leagues and 80 percent by casual, recreational tennis players, whose use of the courts, Sells stated, the board needed to also consider.

Director Arrillaga, the chair of the Master Plan Committee, stated the committee was going to recommend the construction of additional courts on the former sand volleyball court and preferred to wait for bids for that project before formally voting to approve the permanent conversion of the two tennis courts to pickleball.

One of the residents present, however, observed that pickleball reservations could only be made for Courts 1 and 2, which are striped for dual use. Tennis players were still booking these courts, even when other tennis courts were available in West Park Village for play. Thus, he added, pickleball players were unable to play. Converting the two courts to just pickleball, he added, would ensure both pickleball and tennis players could play.

Holt also countered that the cited use estimates conflicted with the actual court reservation data, which showed that 63 percent of all court reservations were for pickleball over the last year. He added that there was not a capacity issue on Westchase courts that would preclude the conversion and that building additional courts would likely cost ten times the cost of converting two tennis courts permanently to pickleball.

Another resident, who said she played league tennis and pickleball, stated the league tournament schedule changes the conversion would cause actually commonly occurred at other sites.

When Director Jim Brinker asked Shires for his input, Shires responded, “If we added two more, made them permanent, we would accommodate all players who want to play,” he said, adding of pickleball. “It’s just becoming more and more popular.”

Ultimately Holt’s motion to continue with the possible complete conversion of the two courts to pickleball by seeking additional bids for the work passed 6-1, with only Director Michelle DelSordo opposed.

Director Sells, the WCA Treasurer, then made his report, stating that the association completed the 2021 fiscal year with an $18,000 deficit. He added on the revenue side that capital contributions from new home sales was up $12,000 over budget, fines exceeded the budgeted line by $19,000 and tennis court rentals also came in $5,000 above budget; revenues from the swim and tennis programs, however, dropped $20,000 from what was expected due to the transition to a new tennis vendor contract and the pandemic’s impact. He added the association’s legal costs were $40,000 higher than budgeted, due to the WCA having to pursue homeowners who, he said, “are not asking for permission first but asking for forgiveness after.” He added, “As we saw earlier tonight.” Praising Association Manager Debbie Sainz’s work on the budget, he stated, “Due to funds from prior years’ budgets, we’re in very good shape.”

Directors then turned to other violations, tabling a potential fine for Bridges VM Dawn Gingrich, present at the meeting, for inadequately screening air conditioning equipment after a significant shrub cutback exposed it. With Gingrich agreeing it would take a long time for the hedges to grow back, the board voted to give her another month to plant taller hedges or request a modification for a screening fence.

Directors also heard a Westchase resident, who was facing a 90-day suspension of his facility use rights for twice failing to wear a shirt on the tennis courts and cursing at staff for enforcing the rule. The resident stated he was ashamed of his conduct. “I wanted to apologize to the community and the board for my behavior. It will never happen again,” he stated. Stating he intended to recommend the 90-day suspension until he heard the resident’s apology, Director Holt instead made a motion for a 30-day suspension, which, he said, could be appealed to the Covenants Committee. That motion passed 4-3.

After hearing a vulture update from VM Rick Goldstein, who stated he appreciated the Westchase Community Development District’s (CDD) recent vote to approve a two-week effort to dislodge a vulture roosting site plaguing residents of Stonebridge, Holt stated, as Government Affairs Committee chair, he had discussed with the sheriff’s office trucks use of Linebaugh. Holt stated that some trucks, under state law, had the right to use the road for deliveries. He added authorities stated that most truck drivers would not lightly violate the road’s truck restrictions because the penalties for doing so against their company were high and would likely result in their firing.

As chair of the Budget Committee, Holt stated the group recently reviewed the association’s $300 monthly charge for document storage with Greenacre Properties, the association’s management company. He said staff had recently discarded more than half of the 50 boxes as the records no longer needed retention. He stated they would work in coming months to digitize the remaining records, stored on site. Directors unanimously passed a motion authorizing the changes.

Citing the association’s long and successful work in winning funding for the Citrus Park Drive extension, particularly under the leadership of former GAC Chair Joe Odda, board members also briefly discussed attending the road’s ribbon cutting on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Director Arrillaga stated the Master Plan Committee was awaiting on staff to finish compiling bids for their suggested projects and Sells, speaking for the Document Review Committee, stated his committee was preparing a lengthy list of suggested Westchase rules changes for possible VM review in February or March.

Closing the meeting, directors unanimously voted to award the Nathan Lafer Community Service Award to Greens resident Joaquin Arrillaga and Chelmford’s Charles Stephens, recognizing their extensive volunteer service to the association.

Directors adjourned at 8:44 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

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