Editorial: The evolving case for home rule in Poinciana

Article Courtesy of The Ledger

By Pierre DuCharme

Published September 13, 2017

Poinciana is a massive subdivision. It straddles Polk and Osceola counties, and the Polk half alone is home to almost 30,000 people. If incorporated, the community would immediately challenge Winter Haven as Polk’s second-largest city — and it’s still growing.


It seems unimaginable a community that size could live under a cloud of parochial, small-time thinking rooted in an old-fashioned power struggle. Yet that’s where Poinciana is, as we have learned through The Ledger’s Mike Ferguson’s reporting in recent months.

Some Poinciana residents are going to court, preparing to argue their developer clings to the levers of power through a homeowners’ association election process that rivals something out of a banana republic.

If you haven’t kept up, the residents have battled the developer for much of the year in order to have a controversy-free election for the HOA leadership.

Poinciana’s HOA is governed by a board comprised of one member each from nine neighborhood boards, each of which has five members. The residents’ advocates maintain the HOA is little more than a rubber stamp for the developer, AV Homes, and its partner, Fairhomes Properties, an investment firm based in Canada.

The community held an election in February. Under the bylaws, the homeowners get one vote for each seat. The developer gets one vote for each house it could build on vacant lots. Critics claim the developer wrongfully inflates its allotment by counting lots that can never be developed, and by projecting a tally of homes on vacant platted parcels that exceeds what could be built under county land-use regulations.

The result: a mess.




In February, a residents’ group, Friends of Poinciana Villages, or FPV, told Ferguson they calculated that AV Homes and Fairhomes should get 500 votes during elections for six of the nine boards. Combined, the companies cast more than 10,000 votes.

A state arbitrator, brought in after a residents’ candidate challenged the outcome, voided the election and called for a second.

The next go-round, held Aug. 1, produced more of the same.

In one neighborhood, the developer claimed the number of votes was just shy of the required threshold for a valid quorum and were thus nullified — even though more homeowners turned out in August than six months earlier, and despite the fact that the February results also came up short, but were not nullified.

Meanwhile, the FPV learned later that the developer in July had filed a motion in circuit court to validate its vote-calculating method. A judge granted it — even though the FPV and the state arbitrator were unaware of the action, and did not get an opportunity to argue their case.

On election day, the developer and its partner cast 9,900 ballots — again when the FPV believed they were entitled to 500.

As Ferguson noted, 11 of the developer’s 13 candidates won on Aug. 1, while none of the FPV’s 19 endorsed candidates prevailed. Had the developer’s votes not counted as they did, the FPV candidates would have swept the election.

Additionally, the developer and its partner can run representatives in multiple elections. One executive from each firm won seats on four different neighborhood boards last month.

The residents have other issues that would rattle even hardened veterans of HOA conflicts.

For example, the FPV maintains that AV Homes is failing to abide by a state law that requires it to abandon management of the community after it sells 90 percent of the developable lots. The group further argues that the developer has not updated deed restrictions in the 44-year-old community accordance with state law. And residents gripe that the developer’s law firm has been given the contract to collect association fees that are in arrears. The developer, according to the residents, rejects late payments and then delays so the fees mount and the debt collector can threaten foreclosure.

The issues in Poinciana, tucked away in Polk’s northeast corner, seem far removed from most of us. Yet many residents of sizeable, HOA-controlled communities all across Florida would likely find the power plays and conniving in Poinciana familiar.

Becoming a city, which residents have discussed, would be complicated, expensive, time-consuming and may not solve everything. But it would equalize the residents as an electorate and, by removing the developer from the scene, empower them to decide the direction of the community. If they can’t get satisfaction from the currently available remedies, that might be the next logical step.