Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune
December 26, 2009
SAN ANTONIO - Just weeks before Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club is slated to be sold, a group of homeowners has sued the developer-controlled homeowners' association over its decision to hike fees by 73 percent.
Neighborhood activist Domenic Gualtieri and three other plaintiffs delivered a cease and desist letter to the association board during its November meeting. Gualtieri contends that homeowners should not be forced to pay fees to support the community clubhouse and other amenities, which are privately owned, because the association has no contract with the clubhouse owner.
The association is controlled by TOUSA, the developer currently in bankruptcy. Joan Hedlund, the only homeowner ever appointed to the board, voted against the fee increase and resigned on Dec. 1. The bulk of those fees, $3.16 million, goes to pay for the country club, which is still operated by the original developer, the Falcone Group.
The Falcone Group raised its assessment by more than $1 million this year after the homeowners refused to buy the struggling golf course and country club. The association board raised each homeowner's amenity fee by $720 a year without explanation.
"That was the last straw," Gualtieri said. "Most of our residents are over 65. We don't have jobs – we have Social Security."
They sued Dec. 18 to get an injunction against the association that would prevent it from collecting the amenity fees until it has a signed contract with Falcone.
Plaintiff Don Mounts questions if Falcone is really using homeowner fees to subsidize the golf course and country club restaurant. "Where is the money going? $3.2 million a year seems awfully high to be paying for a clubhouse, two swimming pools and some tennis courts," Mounts said.
The Falcone Group has never opened its books to the residents, and the association board has never asked to see them or requested a justification for raising the fees.
TOUSA is expected to sell 300 undeveloped lots in retirement community, along with the rest of its Florida assets, to Starwood Land Ventures LLC on Jan. 22. Starwood bid $61.1 million for the roughly 3,500 undeveloped lots across the state.
Though residents say they support Starwood's bid – which would likely result in a new homeowners association - the plaintiffs opted to go forward with the lawsuit.
"You would think that a company of that stature would do the right thing," Mounts said, "but there's no guarantee that they'll go back and change the budget."
Association President Andy Chambers, a TOUSA executive based in Jacksonville, could not be reached for comment.
HERE TO SEE COPY OF LAWSUIT