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New rule prohibits younger residents

Brookridge passes an over-55 deed restriction; the High Point subdivision might soon do the same.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000


BROOKRIDGE -- The welcome mat -- at least for people younger than 55 -- has officially been yanked by the property owners association at Brookridge. And the High Point subdivision, just down the road, might be next.

As of Wednesday, Brookridge closed its gates to potential new residents born since the final months of World War II. Exceptions will be granted for younger people who inherit Brookridge property or who can win an exemption from the community's board of directors.

And the rule does not apply to younger people who now live in Brookridge, a community of manufactured homes that sits west of Brooksville just north of Cortez Boulevard. But estimates are that only 30 to 40 of the more than 2,000 homes in Brookridge are permanently occupied by people younger than 55.

Founded in 1973, Brookridge has always been billed as a retirement community. But until now it has never had an age requirement written into deed restrictions. That has opened the gate to some younger families and, some say, annoyances older residents could live without.

Hazel McElroy, director and president of the Brookridge Community Property Owners Inc., said there has been concern about noise and a few instances of vandalism that seem to originate with young people. Less drastic measures to curb the problems have failed, she said. "We have tried everything."

McElroy said ballots were sent to every Brookridge property owner and, in voting conducted in the fall, the results came back overwhelmingly in favor of the over-55 restriction. She could not give an account of how many ballots were returned.

Technically, the new restrictions say that 80 percent of the occupied homes must have at least one person who is 55 or older and that all residents shall be at least 18 years old.

For Harold Kilcrease, a 51-year-old St. Louis man who bought two empty lots in Brookridge in 1997, the new rule threatens to thwart plans to build a new house and move here soon with his wife and their 9-year-old daughter.

Kilcrease considers the new rule illegal because it was not on his original deed. He also said he never received a ballot. Already, he says, he has filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which investigates housing discrimination. Failing a resolution, Kilcrease says he will sue.

"They're punishing me because I already own land but haven't developed it," he said.

History is on Kilcrease's side.

A similar attempt by Brookridge to establish an age restriction was struck down in 1988. State courts ruled the property owners group had no right to add restrictions not in the original deed.

Clearwater attorney Steven Mezer, now representing the property owners association, says changes in federal and state laws are more favorable to over-55 requirements, encouraging more communities to test the waters.

Count High Point among them.

On Thursday, High Point residents finished six weeks of voting on whether to adopt an over-55 deed requirement, said Pat Fangio, the community association's manager. Results were not available Thursday night.

Fangio said High Point's restrictions, if approved, would be similar to those at Brookridge. Some additional exceptions would be spelled out: Kids can visit for up to 90 days; people younger than 55 can move in to take care of an older resident; and youngsters can move in if an over-55 resident suddenly becomes the child's guardian.

Fangio said High Point, also founded in the early 1970s, has always been marketed as a retirement community. But federal rules have long confused that distinction. Since Congress passed the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995, a law whose wording is reflected heavily in deed changes at High Point and Brookridge, that has begun to change.

Patrick O'Neill, a Gold Star Realty broker, says the age restriction might hurt resale values because it narrows the field of potential home buyers.

McElroy, the Brookridge property owners association president, is undeterred. She said the change might help property values by giving retirees some assurances.

"This is what the people expected," she said. "This is what the people wanted."

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