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Disabled vet sells RV that sparked dispute

More than four years after the fight began, the man sells his RV because he is no longer able to drive it, his attorney says.

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002

BAYONET POINT -- In 1997, Steve Sidney parked his 23-foot Winnebago in his driveway, a seemingly mundane and harmless act.

Except that Sidney lives in a deed-restricted subdivision. And that subdivision, Beacon Woods East, doesn't allow recreational vehicles in driveways.

Thus began the most notorious homeowners association dispute in county history. There was a federal trial. A lawsuit in state court brought by the homeowners association of Beacon Woods East against Sidney. A countersuit by Sidney.

All over an RV.

Sidney, a disabled war veteran, said the 1989 Winnebago was a medical necessity. Doctors had removed most of his ruined large intestine. The RV, he said, allowed him to travel about without having to find a sanitary place to change the ileostomy bag that collects waste from his small intestine.

He applied for an exemption to the deed restrictions. The homeowners association turned him down. Both sides dug in, refusing to budge.

Last month, representatives from both sides signed a settlement agreement that quietly ended the bitter dispute. What finally brought the warring factions together?

Not money. Not concessions.

Sidney sold his RV.

The sale had nothing to do with 57-year-old Sidney giving in, said his attorney, John Renke.

"His physical condition deteriorated to the point where he wasn't able to drive it," Renke said.

Sidney, who could not be reached for comment, explained his predicament in an October affidavit filed in Pasco County Circuit Court. The biceps muscle on his dominant right arm, he wrote, had become detached.

"Because Steve B. Sidney has lost the use of his right bicep muscle, he is no longer able to drive the specially-equipped vehicle," he wrote.

Just like that, the legal battle was moot.

Sidney served in the Navy and was assigned to fly with pilots over Vietnam, tending electronic equipment used to monitor enemy radio frequencies. On a mission in 1967, shrapnel from antiaircraft fire severely injured his legs and chest. After years of medical complications, doctors in 1992 removed portions of his large intestine, requiring him to use the ileostomy bag.

And, he said, the RV.

Neighbors started complaining that the back of Sidney's RV stuck out into the sidewalk on Sandburst Lane, blocking the path of pedestrians. The homeowners association told him to move the RV to a lot about a mile away from his house. Sidney refused, producing a doctor's note saying the RV was a medical necessity. He asked for an exemption.

The homeowners association refused. Not only was the RV a violation of the deed restrictions, but it also wasn't clear, the association said, that Sidney's condition was as serious as he made it out to be.

"We had neighbors telling us he was driving another car, so we had conflicting reports," said Hazel Lowe, president of the Beacon Woods East homeowners association. "We were never convinced that he needed (the RV)."

So the homeowners association filed suit. And promptly, the association became a defendant.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development intervened on Sidney's behalf, accusing Beacon Woods East of discrimination. The agency sued the homeowners association in federal court.

In May 2000, a federal jury ruled for the homeowners association.

Then last month, with the state lawsuit headed for a trial, came the settlement that ended the dispute for good.

According to the settlement, the parties will be responsible only for their own legal costs.

The four years of litigation cost the homeowners association about $25,000, said Lowe, the organization's president. That doesn't include the estimated $200,000 in legal fees that were covered by the subdivision's insurance company, Lowe said.

Lowe said the fight was worth it. Sidney's RV is gone, and now he's driving a Mercury, she said. "It came to a happy ending," she said, "so we're pleased."

Sidney got something out of the ordeal, too, Renke said.

"He got to use the RV (during all the litigation)," Renke said, "so that was good."

But the dispute took its toll on Sidney, Renke said.

"It was nerve-racking," Renke said. "It wore on him."

And, Renke added, "He certainly doesn't have good feelings about the community."

-- Staff writer Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236, or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is

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