Better Fences Make Angry Neighbors


Article Courtesy of Tampa Tribune

Published January 27, 2005


VALRICO - A fencing match is on in the Copper Ridge subdivision, with neighbors dueling over a $275,000 loan approved by the homeowners association board without a vote by residents at large.

About half of the borrowed funds - $140,000 - is earmarked to replace more than 6,000 feet of wooden fence that lines main roads through the community south of State Road 60 between Dover and Mulrennan roads.

A letter from board members to the neighbors says the 7-year-old fence is aging and has cost almost $20,000 to maintain in the past two years, including about $11,000 to replace one section. The letter contends upkeep costs for a PVC fence would be less.

A contractor started ripping out the old fence and installing a PVC version last week.

Shaun Goeckner, a Copper Ridge resident for five years, said the old fence was fine.

"You kick the boards, and they're sound. They don't break,'' he said. "You don't borrow unless you have to.''

Some residents said they received an association letter saying the rest of the financing is for landscaping, new signs and repair of a common wall around part of the subdivision.

Goeckner and some other residents, who pay $255 in homeowner fees each year, said last week that they fear a default on the seven-year loan could harm their property values. Goeckner said tying so much of the neighborhood's funds to loan payments could lead to a shortfall for improvements some people think are more important than the fence.

He and others have launched a petition drive to try to recall the roster of homeowner directors elected in October. They said they need slightly more than 50 percent of the 900-plus association members to oust the board and elect a new slate.

Board President Hermes Vargas referred inquiries from The Tampa Tribune to the letter on the Copper Ridge Web site. Treasurer Bob Silmser referred inquiries to the association's attorney, Ronald Cotterill.

Cotterill declined to comment Friday, except to say the board's actions were legal.

A homeowners meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Buckhorn Elementary School.

John Beck, a Copper Ridge resident working with Goeckner, said he was told at board meetings last year that the loan was secured by the association's fee revenue. The board's letter to homeowners insists the loan is unsecured.

Beck said defaulting on the loan is unlikely. But he worried that failure to make payments could lead to the lending institution taking charge and dedicating all fee revenue to paying off the loan, which would leave nothing for groundskeeping, street lighting and other routine maintenance of common areas.

Others who gathered at Goeckner's home said they feared the loan could lead to imposing an annual assessment on property owners. They also complained that meetings where the loan was discussed last year were not convenient. Until now, the group said, the board has met at county-owned Providence Park, about 10 miles from Copper Ridge.

The subdivision has no clubhouse. Goeckner said board members told him they would have to pay for meeting space closer to home, and the Providence site was free.

Beck, Goeckner and others said resentment bubbled last year when the board started trying to enforce fence standards in deed restrictions applying to individual homes. Many homeowners receiving violation notices had had their fences up for years, Goeckner said.

He said it's too late to stop replacement of the subdivision's perimeter fence. A new board could whittle the costs and possibly return a large chunk of the borrowed funds to reduce the debt, Goeckner said.

He said complaints about homeowner boards led the Legislature to discuss ways to rein in association powers in recent years. He said he hopes lawmakers will make elected homeowner officials answer more directly to association members.

"That's a problem in my mind,'' he said. "They [association boards] have responsibility without accountability.''

Copper Ridge residents start recall over fence loan