Resident sues in bid for lifestyle luxuries

By Paul Owers
Published July 7, 2004
Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

Anthony Sakal bought into the Cypress Island development in northern Palm Beach County because it looked like a place pitched in one of those glossy vacation brochures.

"It had almost a Bermudian-type atmosphere," he said of the 70-home gated community of manicured lawns along the Intracoastal Waterway north of Donald Ross Road.

But Sakal and his wife, part-time residents of Cypress Island, say they've been cheated out of the lifestyle they thought they were getting.

They've filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court against the Cypress Island Property Owners Association and the project's owner, WCI Communities, alleging that the two have conspired to kill a thriving yacht club.

"I know Floridians are used to scams, but this is too much to take," said Sakal, 58, a semi-retired veterinarian from New York. "I can't stand the thought of somebody getting away with this."

Shortly after closing on their three-bedroom townhouse in 2001, the Sakals wanted to take a dip in the development's community swimming pool.

When they walked there, towels in hand, they discovered the pool was gone. WCI had filled it in.

The following May, WCI closed the adjoining yacht club, where residents used to eat elaborate meals and attend holiday parties.

The developer wants to build a handful of luxury homes on the land, and the club and pool were in the way, Sakal said.

Weeds now sprout up through the concrete where the pool used to be, and plywood covers the yacht club's windows.

Bruce Pincheon, president of the Cypress Island Property Owners Association, said the community pool was not being used by many residents.

And the yacht club had become a nuisance, Pincheon said, because it was holding too many loud gatherings attended by the general public.

Pincheon said the association, with support from more than 80 percent of the residents, struck a deal with WCI to close the pool and yacht club. In exchange, WCI would build a community pool and smaller clubhouse on two-thirds of an acre in another part of the development.

"Mr. Sakal is sadly out of touch with the wishes of the community," Pincheon said.

Cypress Island residents would own the new facilities, with each homeowner having to pay about $240 a year, Pincheon said.

The residents did not own the former pool and yacht club, but they had the option of joining the club for about $900 a year.

Shortly after the yacht club was closed, the association's board had voted to file suit against WCI, against the wishes of many residents and the advice of lawyers, Pincheon said.

As a result, the community "overwhelmingly" decided to remove Robert Koch, the board member they felt was responsible for the suit, Pincheon said.

The suit was dropped after Koch was replaced.

"The residents did not want to enter into protracted litigation with WCI," Pincheon said.

Koch, who is not part of Sakal's suit, said in a statement that WCI has deceived the community by influencing a majority of board members.

The Pincheon-led board has "hypnotized" residents into thinking they can't win a legal tussle with WCI and that they should kowtow to the giant developer before it decides to cut off all negotiations, Sakal said.

Kyle Reinson, a spokesman for Bonita Springs-based WCI, said the developer can't possibly satisfy every homeowner in Cypress Island.

"The best thing we can do is reach an agreement with the people who are in power, and that's what we think we've done," Reinson said.

Many property owners only recently moved to Cypress Island and don't miss the pool and yacht club because they never had the chance to enjoy them, Sakal said.

Pincheon said the board's lawyers believe the residents have virtually no rights to the pool and yacht club.

But Sakal insists he has a legal opinion that indicates the residents do have rights, and they should not surrender those for what he says are inferior facilities.

The dispute has lasted for about three years, and Sakal blames the developer for dividing residents so it can conquer the community and boost its profits in the process.

"People who were once good friends no longer converse with each other, to the detriment of the community, but to the benefit of WCI," he said.