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Guest Column

A self-anointed few can't dictate to all others

Published July 28, 2006

In response to John Nash's guest column in the July 17 Citrus Times, Deed restrictions in best interest of community, Nash and others like him are one of the primary reasons why deed restrictions are failing in Sugarmill Woods.

I agree that sound, fair, well-thought-out and enforced deed restrictions are important to the well-being of the community.

However, any such restrictions must involve the reasonable concerns and needs of the residents and cannot be the dictates of a small handful dedicated only to having things their way.

Approximately three years ago, a proposal was sent around to change some of the restrictions. I found a few unreasonable and wrote a lengthy and polite response offering counter suggestions. When I called a couple of weeks later to find out if there was to be some forum for public comment, I was rudely told that the new restrictions had been put into effect as written, end of story.

Supposedly, we have an elected body (actually I think there are two or three separate boards in Sugarmill) to make these decisions. However, it is not a body made up of residents but one made up of lot owners, the vast majority of whom are absent, and the proxies are closely held by a small group of individuals.

In addition, the votes of many residents are not counted because of some arcane and hard to figure out procedures. I still do not know if my wife and I are eligible to vote, and we are owners here for the past six years. I have been told both yes and no. Two years ago, I attended a meeting where any resident who tried to speak or bring up issues was immediately screamed at and threatened with expulsion by our own attorney. I have not attended any meetings since.

Either way, a small group decides what is good for the majority then gets upset when some of the residents ignore some of these restrictions. And here Mr. Nash is right. When some restrictions stop being enforced or cannot be, the remainder of the restrictions may never be able to be enforced.

Some of these restrictions are far from being sensible, as Mr. Nash implies. It is obvious that Mr. Nash hates trucks. Is my pickup truck in my driveway an unsightly blight, but someone's sedan is not? Ridiculous.

The two small in-ground garbage cans dictated 25 years ago for 1,700-square-foot homes simply do not meet the once-a-week garbage needs of a 4,000-square-foot home with a family of four. And so, we "decorate" our front yards with garbage cans. Actually we don't. Our house is such that the garbage cans can be discretely placed where they cannot be seen by passers-by.

Some houses can't do that. They would have to have a fence around the garbage cans. But that is prohibited, too, because animals get into garbage cans. Some residents are forced to keep them in their garages until the morning of pick up, then they "decorate" their lawns.

The boards hate travel trailers, RVs and boats. We have a travel trailer. Occasionally, prior to going on a trip, we need to bring it to our house to load it up and likewise on the return trip we bring it to our house to unload and clean. Under the "reasonable" rules, we have to submit a request in writing to do so specifying the time and date, and we have to receive an agreement in writing. After coming home following a long time away, it is almost impossible to state the time of return. The one time I actually tried to comply, I never did get a response.

I agree that trailers and RVs should not be parked endlessly in the driveway or on the grass, but rules really have to be fair and reasonable. There needs to be a real dialogue between the boards and the residents.

And the list could go on. The point is, anything not done Mr. Nash's way is wrong and all of Mr. Nash's ideas are reasonable and fair. Unfortunately, Sugarmill Woods is made up of about 4,000 residents who believe exactly the same way and have no intention of compromising in any way and then do what they want and challenge the rest to do anything about it. Heck, one guy has built a grotto surrounded by concrete edifices of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on his property. Most of us now feel that no matter what we do with or to our property, we are well within established boundaries. I am getting estimates on a 25-foot statue of Bugs Bunny. I have always loved Bugs Bunny.

Sugarmill is a bit of an anomaly as a subdivision or as a group of subdivisions. In most, there is one developer who sets all the rules and enforces them rigorously with its own security force. Here, many builders build with impunity toward lot boundary restrictions and other regulations. Salesmen give all sorts of accounts as to what can and can't be done in the green belt, usually whatever it takes to make the sale. We did not even get a copy of the restrictions until we went to the closing.

Committee members run around the neighborhood with all sorts of ideas ranging from none at all to draconian edicts and unenforceable threats. Local policing is ineffectual at best, so most of us do what we feel is right within our own area and hope that others remain reasonable.

Lot landscaping ranges from magnificent to dilapidated (especially in rental units) to trailer park chic with whirligigs, concrete pelicans and bobbing lit-up flamingos and plywood silhouetted cowboys. But then we get all ticked off if some guy washes his boat in the driveway. Go figure.

John Getker is a Sugarmill Woods resident. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

[Last modified July 28, 2006, 06:39:40]

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