Controversial assessment in Estero neighborhood may be retracted


Article Courtesy of BONITANEWS.COM


Posted 09/06/04 

A controversial assessment that has disrupted a once-quiet Estero community may be retracted.

Each of the 250 residents of The Island Club, a neighborhood off Corkscrew Road near Interstate 75, are required to pay $400 for the Fort Myers-based firm Bean, Whitaker, Lutz and Kareh Inc. to redraw property lines in the community.

The undertaking could cost up to $100,000.

The property lines need to be redrawn because there are 203 illegal lanais, decks and patios in the community, and Lee County officials have said they must be corrected or they must go. The Island Club's homeowners' association is placing liens on the property of an owner who doesn't pay the fee.

But grumblings from a group of about 10 residents and an attorney they have retained may result in the liens being removed.

Naples attorney John Brugger, who is representing the disgruntled residents, said if the homeowners association cannot produce four legal documents, then the liens cannot be enforced.

Among them are a notice of the meeting where the board of directors adopted a special assessment, an affidavit of mailing that announced the board meeting, the minutes of the board meeting where the assessment was adopted and a follow-up notice of the adopted assessment.

It is unclear whether the homeowners association has all of the documents, but Brugger said the law firm representing the association, Becker & Poliakoff, will enforce the assessments unless it gets the documents.

What's more, to move forward with redrawing property lines, a homeowners association has to have the full support of the neighborhood, Brugger said.

"They don't have the right to approve that without all the approval of the homeowners," he said.

In late July during a homeowners association meeting closed to the press, Island Club residents voted 191-16 in favor of an amendment to bring the illegal structures up to code. Forty-three residents didn't vote.

The homeowners association needed a 67 percent vote, or 168 yes votes, to move forward with a compliance agreement with county government. Through a lengthy process, the agreement would convey a common area, or the piece of land that home owners don't own, to the property owners.

Entering the compliance agreement would protect property owners who don't have an outdoor structure but want one, as long as it meets county codes, Assistant County Attorney Dawn Perry Lehnert has said.

However, it doesn't mean all property owners would be able to build new structures.

Many of the homes back up to one another, and there isn't room to build any more.

Problems in The Island Club began more than two years ago, when residents and Ronald L. Davis, president of RLD Homes, learned the structures violated county code.

A resident applied for a building permit to build an outdoor structure but couldn't get one because land beyond the homes is a common area.

Davis repeatedly has said he had building permits for all of the houses he built in The Island Club and that he thought a 2001 encroachment agreement, which is filed with the Lee County Clerk of Courts, would include the additional structures.

But Assistant County Attorney Dawn Perry-Lehnert has said Davis' company "did not use the necessary building permits" for the structures.

Additionally, an encroachment agreement wouldn't entitle a property owner to a building permit, county building official Bob Stewart has said.

Some residents without structures don't want to pay the fee.

"The homeowners that haven't done that don't want to suffer the penalties," Brugger said.

The possibility of an illegal assessment is good news for resident Bill Bishop, who has fought the measure for the past few months.

"I will always vote no, therefore this issue is never going to happen," Bishop said. "It's not going to happen."