Riled residents protest citations
Article Courtesy of the South Marion Citizen

By Lee Helscel
Posted March 6, 2004 

By 10 a.m. on March 1, the Cherrywood Estates sales office parking lot at 103rd Street Road and State Road 200 was filled with more than 150 mumbling and grumbling residents. They had assembled in protest to letters warning of deed restriction violations they received Feb. 28.

Over the weekend, residents Ada Hanlon and Suzanne Gammell called and e-mailed friends and neighbors in the 700-home development. The idea was to confront the developer, Johnny Zacco, in this latest in ongoing disputes over deed restriction and covenant issues.

However, nobody was there to meet them the building was locked. A hand-printed note, taped to the inside of the glass door said, "This is no longer Cherrywood Estates. Any questions, please call 873-1998." Residents speculated on who was in the sales office, judging from figures moving past the windows. Company officials have said the office is now being used to sell Zacco's new development on S.W. 95th Street, Hardwood Trails.

As the crowd milled about and talked in groups, they assembled around Hanlon and Gammell in the middle of the parking lot to discuss the surprise mailing, and what to do about it. Someone shouted, "We need a lawyer!"

Hanlon said, "No, we don't need a lawyer," The crowed agreed and took turns telling the history of the issues the notices raise.

Basically, the residents didn't know what the intent of the letters was. The letters addressed alleged deed restriction violations over painted driveways, lawn ornaments, decorative plants, ditch conditions, swimming pools and other assorted infractions, and gave residents 30 days to comply.

What angered many was the fact that most infractions were years old and they had written or verbal approval for the work from the developer at the time, Chris Zacco n since ejected from the company by his brother John and father Mario.

Homeowners Frank and Nancy Archer had their house built house six years ago. The home and pool were permitted and built by the Cherrywood developer before the Archers took possession of the property, Archer said.

Now the letter, on Cherrywood letterhead stationary, says their pool and yard ornaments are in violation of deed restrictions. They don't understand why there should be a problem. The developer built their house, and so how can it not be right, they asked.

Many of the letters warn of lawn ornament violations, which is another controversy with Cherrywood residents. A copy of deed restrictions dated Aug. 23, 1994 allows yard ornaments. An amendment dated Sept. 20, 1994, however, says yard ornaments are "not" allowed.

According to community activist Chan Gerber, state law prohibits developers from imposing deed restrictions more restrictive than the original documents, making, he said, the amendment illegal. Another point, some said, is that many residents do not have complete copies of deed restrictions and covenants.

Residents were also puzzled about the amount of time between the supposed infractions and in the letters.

When Alan Shattuck put in a sidewalk six years ago, he also put a bridge over the swale in front of his house. Its construction and engineering were questioned, he said.

To settle the dispute, Shattuck submitted plans to Marion County Engineering, where the design was approved and was later accepted by the County Commission, he said.

The appearance of retired New York District Court judge John Carroll's painted driveway is in question. "I don't do anything illegal. I know better," he said.

In another case, the two-year-old paint on Hanlon's drive is the subject of her letter. Before the painter started the job, they got approval from the developer, Chris Zacco, Jim Hanlon said.

Around 10:45 a.m. Rob Hunt, the Cherrywood field superintendent, arrived to speak with residents. Members of the crowd expressed pleasant surprise as he was spotted driving up.

Hunt went to the office door to address the assembly and was peppered with questions from concerned residents for approximately 30 minutes. Each time he tried to explain that he couldn't make determinations about each situation.

All residents were advised to send written responses and pictures to the post office box return address label on the letters, within the 30-day time period given. There is no return address on the stationary, no sender is identified and the complaints are not signed.

Before Hunt left, he told residents they would probably have longer than 30 days to comply, due the volume of letters sent out.

Many residents complained of not being able to send a certified or return receipt letter to a post office box. "You don't know if they got it," Gerber said.

By 11:30 the residents had trickled away and Hanlon and Gammell had 92-plus signatures and contact information from neighbors.

The homeowners are going to stay in touch and not give up their painted driveways, pools, lawn ornaments or bridges, they said. Also, two unlikely neighbors, Gerber and Hanlon, who have disagreed on issues before, found common ground in community issues.

"It ain't over, yet," Gerber said. There was discussion of holding a meeting to establish a working homeowners organization.

Cherrywood has been more than 90 percent built out for much longer than 90 days and the developer has not turned over management of the community, as established by state law, Gerber explained. At one point all the officers of a previous association quit in protest over disputes with the developer. .