North Fort Myers community's residents roll up sleeves

Article Courtesy of The News-Press

By Mary Wozniak

Published December 15, 2011

Like the flow of Indian Creek, residents’ discord with the developer of Riverbend Golf and River Club in North Fort Myers is all just water under the bridge.

Residents gathered Saturday to help paint the covered bridge spanning the creek in the center of the community, a bridge newly rebuilt with almost $14,000 of their own donations.

The paint-a-thon is the latest in a series of up to $37,000 in projects taken on by residents who opted to take action instead of letting years of long quarrels over who-should-do-what drag on with the developer of the 30-year-old community.

“Things were falling in disrepair over the last few years due to the financial crisis,” said Cindy Jindra, vice president of the Riverbend Homeowners Association of Lee County, the community’s master association. Fixing the community, nestled against the Caloosahatchee River off Bayshore Road, meant more than winning arguments, she said. “All people did was fight about it.”

The development of Riverbend was started in 1981 by Tom Hoolihan Sr., who later handed over the business to his son, Tom Jr. The community has 355 homes, condos and villas, governed by several smaller neighborhood associations under the master association umbrella.

On Wednesday, Hoolihan Jr. downplayed strife that may have existed between him and residents. He said there may have been some past questions about who had legal and financial responsibility for maintenance and repair issues at Riverbend, but no arguments. Besides, the last construction at Riverbend ended about 15-16 years ago, he said. The role of father and son now are as property owners, not developers, he said.

He owns a real estate brokerage called Vision One Realty Group and the Riverbend Golf Course, the community’s public golf course, Hoolihan Jr. said.

Repair history

Residents said the spruce-up started around the summer of 2009.

First was repair of channel markers leading to river access from the community, said Gary Growth, president of the Yachtsman’s Cove Condo Association, a neighborhood in the community. The Coast Guard had threatened to cite Riverbend with a daily fine until they were fixed, he said.

The master association voted to take on that project for nearly $3,000, said Carol Putney, master association president. The money came from fees collected from residents’ yearly assessments.

Next was cleaning up of vegetation and landscaping at the berm at the entrance to the community, from fall 2009 to early 2010.

“The lights were not working. The irrigation was not working. It was overgrown,” Growth said. The master association voted to put in new lighting and a new irrigation system. They hired out for tree removal and landscaping, assisted by residents who volunteered. The cost: $10,000 to $12,000. In 2010, Hoolihan Jr. deeded the area to the master association for $1.

The pool was cracked and did not meet health codes. The health department condemned it in July 2010 and gave a 30-day notice before it had to be filled in.

“We didn’t want to see it filled in,” Putney said. “We had no choice.”

The board took over the pool and had it restored at a cost of $7,000-$8,000. They lease the pool from Hoolihan Jr. for a nominal amount and residents can use it for free, when previously they had to pay the developer a fee.

A pool committee was set up so residents could volunteer to test the water each week and clean the pool, Jindra said. Now the 15-foot-by-30-foot pool has sparkling blue water and is surrounded by a white picket fence.

Hoolihan Jr. denied the pool was ever condemned. When health inspectors came out, “there were a couple of items here or there,” that needed fixing he said. “I’m not in the pool business.” He let the residents take over management of the pool, Hoolihan Jr. said.

“It was a friendly situation,” he said. “I still view it that way today.”

The bridge dates to the 1930s, Hoolihan Jr. said. His father purchased it in 1978 or 1979 and turned it into a covered bridge. For the first 25-30 years the Hoolihans maintained it and put about $40,000 into the bridge, he said. Then Hurricane Charley nearly demolished it.

“The homeowners said, ‘We can’t leave it like this,’” Jindra said. The developer was unwilling or unable to repair it, she said. “So we said, ‘We are going to set up a bridge committee and people will donate for the bridge repair.’”

“There was a question about who owned the bridge,” Hoolihan Jr. said. Recently the residents took it over and rebuilt it, and will maintain the bridge.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “it’s resolved.”

“There was a lot of ill will toward the developer by people who had lived in the community for a long time,” Jindra said. “Original owners were promised things,” then saw elements of their community fall into disrepair, she said. “The new people coming in had no promises. They wanted the community to be the best it could be.”

Most of the naysayers were won over and the majority of the community is proud over what they’ve been able to accomplish, Jindra said.

“We can be mad at them forever. (But) we’re just spiting ourselves.”