Gated entrance to a boat ramp on Moody Road in North Fort Myers. Residents of the Moody River Estates community on Hancock Bridge Parkway have the right to use the ramp, but the property owner has offered to give it to Lee County. Condominium owners are worried that turning the ramp they consider an amenity into a public boat ramp will diminish the value of their property.
"It sounds like one of those things that's too good to be
true," said Commissioner Frank Mann. "I hate to look a gift horse in the
mouth, but help me understand what motivates this gift."
End of an amenity
The gift is rooted in a long legal battle that ended with residents of Moody River Estates holding a permanent easement to use the boat ramp. Originally, the ramp and a parcel off the Moody River site was to be bought by the condo developer.
A boat ramp on Moody Road in North Fort Myers is currently off limits to the general public, but residents of Moody River Estates have the right to launch boats from the site. That could change, since after the condo association declined to buy the site, the property owner as offered the property to the county to turn into a public boat ramp which residents say would diminish the value of their property.
"I have been a Realtor in Lee County," Mayer said. "A public boat ramp is not the same thing, you can't say with pride 'there's a public boat ramp.'"
Residents say the amenity of an association-owned boat ramp was part of the the sales pitch when they bought homes from builders associated with Meritage Homes of Florida, which built Moody River Estates.
"All sales brochures, overhead pictures — family gathering round the waterfront — was part of the sales program adopted by Meritage," said a statement from Moody River Estates Community Association president Theresa Silva. "This facility was to be an amenity similar to a pool or tennis court."
The Moody River homeowners association previously rejected an offer from the Huethers to sell the land to the association for $4 million, Mayer said.
The attorney for Mood Development did not respond to a request for comment.
Moody River was developed in the early 2000s. The first developer, Colonial Homes, sold the condo property to Meritage.
The Huether company bought the nearby 11-acre site, known as Moody Marina, from Colonial to "land bank" the property until Meritage was ready to buy it at a set price of $8.9 million. Meritage paid $1.1 million upfront toward an option on the land.
In 2007, the economy collapsed and land prices entered a free-fall. Meritage scaled back its plans and moved to buy only the easement right to access the boat ramp.
Faced with only access to the ramp in the middle of the Moody Road lot, the condo association raised money and sued. Litigation dragged on for years, until a judge ordered a new ramp built at the northern edge of the property. The order gave Mood Development a contiguous lot without having to host a special use in the middle that could limit the value to potential buyers..
That was in 2011. Six years later, the ramp residents had believed was included when they paid premium prices for their homes was finished.
Moody River Estates Community Association board chair Silva said the HOA pays the bills for maintenance, insurance and security for the ramp.
Residents may be surprised to learn they are also on the hook for maintaining the underground system of pipes installed to prevent rainy season flooding of parking areas.
When the South Florida Water Management District issued a permit for underground stormwater control piping to prevent flooding around Hancock Creek, Meritage listed the Moody River Estates Community Association as the operating entity, responsible for maintenance, according to Melissa Roberts, an engineer with the state agency.
Michael Geml, chairman of the Moody River boat ramp committee, said that soon after the county issued a certificate of completion for the ramp, Huether insisted on residents getting parking stickers for their vehicles, proof of insurance for the boats and imposed other rules.
Access was then expanded to a neighboring complex not part of Moody River Estates.
"He goes over to Mangrove Bay and told them they can start using it," Geml said.
Initially the offer to acquire the land looked good to county officials, but now due diligence will include meetings with the Moody River homeowners association and the Community Development District to learn more about their opposition.
"We do understand there are long-standing conflicts between interested parties," Desjarlais said. "By the time final decisions are made, we will understand all of the issues."