Kings Gate residents, developer clash

Article Courtesy of The SUN-HERALD

By Josh Salman

Published April 7, 2010

   PORT CHARLOTTE — Residents of the Kings Gate retirement community in Port Charlotte say they know they signed a bad contract, they just don’t know what to do about it.


   Property owners say developer Nathan Benderson is unilaterally raising community fees, and forcing them to spend money at his restaurant and golf course. Language in the community’s governing documents also allows him to   call for further increases at any time without resident input.


   The community’s homeowners have had enough, and they want the language retracted, even if it means a lengthy legal battle.


   “A contract can’t be open ended or it’s not a real contract,” said Ted Snyder, president of the Kings Gate residents group. “We’re not going to let this go indefinitely ... We feel there’s a strong legal question here, but the courts will be our last resort.”


   More than 200 residents   heard options from the group’s attorney and debated a course of action at a community meeting Monday night.


   The complex’s homeowners claim Benderson has been unfairly raising mandatory monthly fees for use of the clubhouse, restaurant and golf course, which also are open to the public. They’re now shelling out more than $250 per month.


   They say Benderson also has been cheating the homeowners association out of nearly $250,000 annually, and deleted language in the community’s covenants that would have forced him to turn control over to the homeowners association     after an expiring 15-year deadline.


   “I wish I could enter into binding contracts and unilaterally change them,” said Ed Wotitzky, an attorney representing Kings Gate residents. “That would be like if I sold you a house for $10,000, and after you sign, I turn around and say, ‘Oh, by the way, now you owe me $100,000.’”


   The residents’ group had a meeting with Benderson’s staff last week in an attempt to resolve the issue.


   If they can’t come to an agreement by fall, the group likely will vote on a decision to bring the battle to court. But with little precedence and case law to go by, Wotitzky said their argument won’t be an easy sell.


   Bob Spanos, director of development for Benderson’s company, did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday, but he previously said he has no plans to retract the debated language.


   He also said only about one-third of the community’s 575 residents are upset. The development has 973 home sites.


   The community’s residents even have pressured state lawmakers for help, with little success.


   “These developments have such strong lobbyists, and they claim everything is   hunky-dory,” said Magda Stelzl, 74. “We can’t get anything through.”


   But not all community members are on the same page.


   If the issue were forced into the courtroom, residents would be looking at a shared $50,000 in legal costs, and there’s no guarantee they’ll win.


   Some say that risk greatly outweighs any possible reward.


   “I don’t like what Mr. Benderson is doing, but the cost is just too much,” said Dawn Amiclum, 59. “The bottom line is the developer is within his legal rights, and this could go on in the courts for years.”