- VA - Kristiansand rebel
By Amy Johnson
Article Courtesy of The Virginia Gazette
November 30, 2002
|JAMES CITY -- Don't tell Bill West
what he can't do. He may do it anyway, just to prove a point.
West has been at odds with the Kristiansand Homeowner Association for more than a decade, largely over property rights.
In a county with more than 100 neighborhood and homeowner associations, there is growing frustration that the volunteer associations lack any clout to enforce the covenants.
Few protests are as blatant as West's. When the association complained about his grass, he refused to mow it for a year, then erected a sign that reads “Nature Preserve.”
There were complaints about work tools left in his yard, so West made it a point to stop picking them up.
“They are always griping about something,” he said the other day. “And it's none of their business.”
The latest beef centers on residents who park vehicles on the grass in their yards. The homeowner association sent out letters to certain people asking that the cars be moved.
Annoyed, some of them posted “Private Property” signs in their yards. West erected a sign directed at the association: “Attn KHA: It's my grass, I'll park on it if I want.”
He also showed up at one of the association's meetings and asked to see the portion of the bylaws and convenants that directed residents not to park in their yards.
“They couldn't show me any paperwork,” West said. “The boys who have their cars on the grass aren't a nuisance, they are working on their cars on their own property. It is harrassment.”
West insists the problem is with homeowner associations in general. When he and his wife moved here 13 years ago, they chose Kristiansand because the governing body wasn't strict, and membership was optional.
“Homeowner associations just cause problems,” he said. “There's usually one or two people who want to tell everyone what to do.”
Barbara Watson, director of Neighborhood Connections for James City, gets complaints about homeowner associations “all the time.”
About half of the county's associations require residents to join. Others develop bylaws and covenants, but they have little or no power to impose them.
Watson contributes much of the animosity to lack of information upfront.
“When people buy a house, sometimes they don't read the fine print,” she said.
West contends that the Kristiansand assocation does not represent his neighborhood.
“There are over 200 houses in Kristiansand, and only 73 people are members,” he said. “Probably only 12 of them are active.”
Neighbor and assocation member Dan Helmick agrees that the association is short on members, but he said a lot of effort is put into it.
“Homeowner associations are a great thing to have,” Helmick said. “We do many positive things in our community.”
Maintaining the community park, applying for grants and sponsoring holiday activities are some of the reasons why Phil Scalise joined.
Scalise calls West a good friend, but admitted, “You can't make everybody happy.”
West compared homeowner associations to a “communist regime” in which members often have a “sheep mentality” where everyone just does what they're told. He did admit that he has run afoul of county codes on a few occasions and complied.
Joan Ranson, secretary of the Kristiansand Homeowner Association, said the group's mission is to protect the integrity of the neighborhood, not control the residents.
Ranson said she and her husband, Bob, who is president of the association, had gotten several complaints from real estate agents and homeowners about the parking issue.
“We wrote them kind letters,” Ranson said, saying it doesn't take many homes to bring down property values.
“My property is nobody's business but my own,” West countered.
Ranson said that while property owners have rights, they must also be considerate.
“It's just too bad,” she said. “Some people just have no respect for their neighbors.”