Coronavirus Florida: Limits to re-opening of amenities at 55+ communities infuriate some

Article Courtesy of  The Palm Beach Post

By Mike Diamond

Published May 30, 2020


Many active-adult retirement communities throughout Palm Beach County are preparing to reopen their facilities on a limited basis by Monday.

The limitations, though, have infuriated some residents of these tony developments with high-end amenities that include luxurious pools and first-rate tennis and pickleball courts that have been shuttered for more than two months.

“I feel like I am back in elementary school,” said Jerry Mitzner, a resident of Valencia Cove, a west of Boynton Beach community of 800+ homes. “We are all adults and it is time that we be treated as such. We are way behind what is now permitted by the county. The limitations are ridiculous.”

The coronavirus-induced limitations, generally, call for:

  • Only singles play is allowed for tennis and pickleball and only for a few hours a day. No play is allowed on Sunday.

  • Tennis players must bring their own balls to avoid touching their opponent’s tennis balls and any that stray onto their court; players are supposed to kick it back to the adjacent court.

  • Pickleball players must wear a glove on their non-dominant hand.

  • After scheduled play ends, gates to the courts must be locked.

  • Only two reservations a week can be made for swimming-pool use. A limited number of people can be at the pool and residents must bring their own chairs.

  • No congregating on the courts or at the pools is permitted.

  • No guests are allowed in the pool or on the courts.

At Valencia Cove, Mitzner is miffed with the decision to only open three of the eight tennis courts so that they can be better monitored.

“I’ll be lucky if I get to play once a month.”

While country clubs, county parks and municipal recreation areas have been open since April 29, retirement communities had been resistant, claiming that it is too difficult to monitor and enforce the social-distancing requirements. But with the county tweaking the requirements to place more of the responsibility on residents to comply and allowing homeowners associations to spot check for compliance, many made the decision to prepare for a reopening.

Non-compliance can result in eviction, fines and or loss of privileges.

County Commissioner Robert Weinroth said the easing of the requirements were designed to enable HOAs to enforce social distancing without incurring a financial hardship.
“They complained to us and we reacted,” he said, “but at the end of the day, they still must ensure that the rules are being adhered to.”

Weinroth said he does not expect the county to get involved in telling the HOAs how they should or whether they should open their facilities. “It is totally their call,” he said.

Taking small steps

HOAs have been receiving pushback from residents over the soft openings.

Valencia Cove resident Bonnie Montal said she bought into a 55+ community, not a 65+ one. The shutdown has forced her to play tennis at public facilities, where she says there is a greater possibility of picking up the virus and spreading it as opposed to playing where she lives. “I understand the need for social distancing, and we can all do that if given the opportunity.”

Sharon Glyn of Villa Borghese called the baby-step rules an “overuse of power” by her HOA in a post on the Next Door site. Another resident wanted a refund for not being able to use the amenities at her development.

But not everyone is upset. Walter Gassner, a retired physician who runs one of South Florida’s largest pickleball leagues, lives at Valencia Bay just to the south of Valencia Cove. He said the limitations are designed to keep everyone safe, noting that seniors are vulnerable to the virus. He decided earlier this month to cancel his league’s fall season.

“Most of us are satisfied just isolating, walking and biking, and losing this summer,” he said. “I believe the leadership in these communities is acting in a caring and responsible manner. Once rules are relaxed, we’ll have a spike. The rules may need to be tightened once again. And then repeat.”

Valencia Bay has had three people infected with the virus; two of the three died from it.

Bob Gottlieb, a member of the HOA board at Valencia Bay, said these restrictions were carefully developed.

“This is a minor hardship not to fully enjoy the amenities,” he said. “Ideally, we would like to have everything open but look at what is going on around us. There will always be a handful of people who do not want to be told anything.”

Murray Gendzel, president of the pickleball club at Valencia Reserve, said his members are itching to get back on the courts. But he said it is important that these openings be done very carefully. He supports the limitations.

“My guess is that once things go smoothly, the limitations will begin to be removed.”

Valencia Isles HOA President Bob Goldstein said the HOAs throughout the county have been working with each other to develop a sound plan to reopen. Twenty-nine communities discuss issues weekly through a presidents’ council. That is why, he said, so many of reopening plans are similar to each other.

“The vast majority of residents support what we are doing but you always hear from a vocal minority,” he noted. “We are in a difficult position but health and safety must be the drivers here. I would hope that we will get to a Phase 2 in two to four weeks.”

Slow reopenings

Meanwhile, the slow reopenings are not just restricted to retirement communities. The Post received complaints from residents of non-age restricted developments as well. Smith Farm, for example, is not opening its pool or tennis courts until June 1.

Arthur Goldzweig, the HOA president at Four Seasons, west of Delray Beach, said communities still have to expend resources to monitor the county orders even with the concessions that have been made. He called on the county to use some of its $60 million in business grants to assist the HOAs. “The county mandated cost increases without providing funds.”

Coral Lakes, a 1,300-plus unit active adult retirement community, will be one of the last developments to reopen. It has yet to set a date.

“We are getting some pressure,” said General Manager Laurel Kadouri, “and we understand that people want us to reopen. Our master board feels it does not have the luxury to be wrong. They prefer angry people that stay alive, rather than happy people now, but later contract Covid-19. We want to see how well all these other communities do.”

Kadouri said a task force has been created to prepare guidelines for the master board to consider. It is expected to act on it some time in June.

Meanwhile, all is well at Vizcaya, a Delray Beach retirement community that may have been the very first retirement community to open once the county gave the green light a month ago. It allowed residents to begin playing doubles tennis on May 22 after the county modified its singles-only order.

“There have been no issues here,” said Marcy McFaul, property manager at Vizcaya. “We have been very pleased with the way our residents have complied with social distancing. That is why we went to doubles play. And they are very happy.”