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Crop of troubles springs from front yard planter

[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Akin Ashekun built the planter in front of his $325,000 home in West Meadows. When his homeowners association told him it violated deed restrictions, Ashekun thought it was a joke.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


TAMPA -- Like many working people, Akin Ashekun doesn't have much time for his yard.

Long days as an investment banker spill turn into long nights, and it's usually dark when he gets home to West Meadows.

So Ashekun considered it an accomplishment last summer when he built a flower planter out of bricks and stucco. He thought it enhanced the front yard of his $325,000 house in Strathmoor Estates, the most expensive neighborhood in West Meadows.

But the planter has given him nothing but grief. The property owners association in the deed-restricted community says Ashekun didn't get permission to install it. Neighbors have complained about its looks.

Now he might get sued over it.

Ashekun can't understand why the association would take him to task over a $400 planter. At first, he thought it was a joke.

"Quite frankly I don't know what the problem is," he said. "This is just a flower bed."

The association says the problem is the planter, not what's in it. The community's rules ban flower boxes unless they are approved in advance.

He faces a lawsuit if he doesn't remove the planter or submit an application about it for the association to consider.

"He's built a concrete structure out there in the middle of his yard," said Harry Lerner, president of Westshore Development Group, which manages West Meadows. "It's not a flower bed."

The 3-year-old community in New Tampa has size and height limits for things such as fences and screened enclosures, but doesn't have specifications for planters and other ornamental objects. The approval process for such items is largely subjective, Lerner said. Generally, not having criteria means the items are prohibited.

The oval-shaped planter is 16 inches high and 10 feet wide. Inside are a variety of green plants -- Ashekun's not sure what kind, but he said they're thriving. Ashekun painted the planter gray to match his house.

The West Meadows Property Owners Association notified Ashekun of the problem in November after neighbors complained that it didn't meet the community's standards. The association said he had to submit his plans to the architectural review committee and pay a $100 application fee.

Ashekun took a photograph of the planter, sent in his money and figured the issue was over.

It wasn't.

The association said it needed the dimensions and exact location before it could make a determination. Ashekun has until Feb. 23 to resubmit the information or get sued.

"We're required as the homeowners association to enforce the architectural control guidelines," Lerner said. "If we don't enforce them, then we have other people who are upset."

Like residents in several New Tampa communities, every home buyer in West Meadows agrees to the association's deed restrictions before moving in.

The rules say exterior improvements involving things such as the paint color, doors, windows, satellite dishes, walls, fences and flower boxes must be approved by the review committee. About five or six requests come through a month, Lerner said.

Ashekun said he assumed the restrictions applied to structural changes that could pose a safety risk, not minor aesthetic improvements.

"I don't think the flower bed is putting any poison on anyone's food," he said. "It's not a hazard or obstruction."

Ashekun hasn't decided what to do about the problem. He doesn't want to hire an attorney, but fears it might wind up in court. He wishes the association would move on to more important issues, such as security and maintenance.

"I just don't see why anyone would spend that much time on a planter," he said.

The association won't let the issue go.

"If we let one slip then other people will start slipping and then you have a bigger problem," Lerner said. "We're not playing around."

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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