Pioneer Village residents: Area not being kept up
Article Courtesy of the Miami Herald

Posted on Sun, Oct. 27, 2002


A historic library with an overgrown lawn and rats. One narrow entrance for 72 homes in a gated community. Homeowner's association meetings that turn into shouting matches.

Pioneer Village residents say this is what they've been dealing with since they moved into homes they were promised would be family friendly.

''The place is advertised as a private gated community, but we're not getting that,'' Frank Norman said.

Since residents began moving into the downtown Homestead community three years ago, there has been continual controversy over the homeowner's association, the Historic Lily Lawrence Bow Library and a yet-to-be-built playground for neighborhood kids.

''My mother and grandmother used to go there, so I take care of it,'' said resident Phillip Foley, who uses his own lawn mower and gas to cut the grass around the library. He also chases away the rats he says were invading the renovated building.

Foley says he's also had to replace trees, cut neighbor's lawns and even stand watch for when a shortage of streetlights attracted burglars.

''I've had my house broken into three times in the three years we lived here,'' said Cindy Atkins, Foley's girlfriend. ``One day my son came home and there was a man sleeping on our front doorstep.''

When asked whose fault it is that nothing is being done, city officials and homeowners blame each other.

''We postponed the landscaping because they have no homeowner's association in place,'' City Manager Curt Ivy said.

Although Ivy says the city is looking into bids to maintain the library and tot lot area, lawn maintenance and street upkeep should be handled by the homeowner's association.

But after association president Luis Avila refused other board members' requests he step down in May, all but one of the other association members handed in their resignations, rendering the board powerless.

''We are going to reconstitute the board, and we should be meeting sometime in mid-November,'' Avila said.

Jennifer Magtira-Waddell, the association's former vice president, says the bigger issue here is what she calls the city's contradiction over the fate of the library and adjacent playground.

''They knew that they could never give us ownership of the library, but they tried to anyway,'' she said.

City officials offered the homeowners the option of taking over the Lily Lawrence Bow Library this year, but council meeting minutes from 1998 indicate that was never an option.

''The city has already received one preservation grant, therefore, the city has an obligation to retain ownership and to make sure the library is maintained,'' said then-City Manager John Asmar at a March 1998 city council meeting.

Just seven months later, Asmar said ``the proposed homeowner's association will be responsible for the upkeep, and there will be some type of management fees that will take care of the costs.''

Linda Kompelien, director of the Community Redevelopment Agency responsible for the Pioneer Village project, says two of the three grant-givers said they had no problem with the city giving the library to residents as long as use of the library fell within grant guidelines.

''If the homeowners decided to keep the library, then we'd only have to give back the grant money we got for the design of the tot lot playground area, which was under $20,000,'' she said.''

Taking over the library might force the homeowner's association to foot the bill if anything goes wrong.

''If something happens and the library doesn't fit the standards, we would have to pay back the grant money,'' Wadell said. But it doesn't matter now, says Ivy and other council members including Steve Bateman. They've changed their minds and would like to see the library remain city property.

''It's in a beautiful condition,'' Bateman said at the Oct. 7 council meeting, two days before Ivy sent a letter to the homeowners requesting they keep the library. ``I would hate to see them have it and the first time a window gets knocked out they want us to fix it.''

Atkins says that behavior is to be expected from city officials.

''They don't care about us, all they care about is liability,'' she said.