Harbour Watch residents, developer wrestle for control

The developer's rights at a Tarpon Springs community have expired - or have they?


Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times


Published August 4, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - In Thursday morning's drizzle, those ousted from power in a recent Harbour Watch homeowners association election set out to reclaim their turf.

Flanked by a police officer and a locksmith, property manager Jackie McMahon planned to take back her office.

But fate quashed the effort.

Before they could change the locks for the second time in three days, members of the new regime showed up for an unrelated staff interview. They blocked the door and neither the locksmith nor police wanted to interfere.

"It's going to go to the attorneys now!" McMahon shouted as she pulled away from the contested office.

The scene was just the latest showdown over control of the waterfront community. After 20 years of developer control, disgruntled residents organized an election Tuesday to vote for new association leadership.

They claimed that Mark Robinson, who acquired developer's rights in 2000, has mishandled some of the association's $400,000 annual budget and refused to respond to their input. According to the development's founding documents, developer control expired 20 years after the first lot sale, or June 29, they said.

But Robinson and his supporters say the Tuesday election was invalid. Robinson claims he can renew his developer's rights in 10-year increments indefinitely, and that he will organize his own election to hand over power.

"This gives every resident in Harbour Watch the opportunity to vote for their candidate," he wrote in a prepared statement Thursday. "Change is good for Harbour Watch. A new era has arrived."

The three new association directors elected Tuesday say the community already has voted. After 76 residents cast ballots in favor of the bloc of candidates, they marked the transition of power by changing locks to the property manager's office.

The association's attorney, Joseph Cianfrone, did not return calls seeking comment on the situation. Though he wrote a letter dated July 30 saying he was resigning from his post, Robinson says that he is still representing the association.

Day-to-day control of the pivotal property manager's office is equally murky.

"Who knows?" said recently elected director Richard Warnke. "Maybe tomorrow there will be another locksmith."

Who runs Harbour Watch?