By KIM ESTES, Four Points News
Two Steiner Ranch residents have each hired attorneys to seek changes in the Steiner Ranch Homeowners Association, about which one said, “It has too much authority and not enough transparency.”
Peggi Patel and Lori O’Connell who both live in Lakewood Hills of Steiner are upset with the HOA for its approval of a pool house — possibly as large as 1,590-square-feet — on a lot where there is already a house and a pool. “People add pools, cabanas, outdoor kitchens… This is like another house,” O’Connell said.
The exact size of the new construction is in question. According to Patel, HOA board members said the variance requested by the homeowner was for 1,290-square-feet. County records show a permit for a 1,590-square-foot variance. “Board members said the difference could be the way it is measured,” Patel said.
Nevertheless, she commented, it is “not a typical variance.”
The property is located at the corner of Lakewood Hills Terrace and Arbor Lake Cove. Patel and O’Connell are neighbors to the homeowners.
O’Connell said, “I bear the neighbor no ill will, really. I’m mad at the HOA. They rubber-stamped this. I went to the board and asked questions. The director and board members didn’t know basic information. I talked to them about loss of privacy and property value. They were not concerned,” she said.
Patel said, “It’s how the HOA handled it and how it uses its discretionary authority that seems so out-of-line. It has too much authority and not enough transparency.”
Patel and O’Connell said they have been advised that seeking removal of the house could mean a suit by the homeowners against the HOA because they had the association’s approval.
In a telephone call, HOA attorney, Alex Valdes, voluntarily said that by law it could not be disclosed if a restriction was broken. Otherwise, he requested that questions be e-mailed to him and later responded by writing, “…I am limited as to the amount of information I can provide to a third-party such as a media outlet.”
HOA executive director, Randy Schmaltz, also declined to be interviewed. “It has been turned over to legal,” he said.
Nevertheless, Patel and O’Connell have taken the initiative to hire attorneys and they hope for changes in how the HOA operates, particularly within its discretionary powers. “The attorneys are hired to look at the rules. If I can do nothing else but prevent this from happening to others, that’s what I’ll do,” O’Connell said.
“Maybe this will put pressure on the HOA to make changes for a more open and equitable process,” Patel said.
O’Connell said the petitioning homeowner initially met with her because the new construction was over the property owner’s easement. O’Connell rejected the project and, she later learned, so did the HOA.
O’Connell understood the plans changed after that and without any further word to her, construction began the week of Spring Break.
O’Connell was dismayed. “I can’t believe that after being asked, and our objection, they didn’t notify us. But it turned out that they didn’t have to notify neighbors,” she said.
Patel said, “I didn’t understand the scope of it until the frame went up. I can see it from inside my house, from my breakfast area and family room. The best solution the HOA could come up with was to plant trees. The roofline is so high. You can’t hide it.”
Furthermore, Patel recently put her house up for sale. “The agent doesn’t know if it will hurt the sale of my property. We won’t know until we get feedback. Even if (the new construction) doesn’t bother potential buyers to look at, they might use it as a negotiating point,” she said.
O’Connell said what concerns her is the HOA can do what it wants apparently. “When I first moved into Steiner Ranch, I got a letter within 10 days about not having flowers in my flowerbed. At the time, I thought I’d rather the restrictions be more extreme than less. I appreciate rules. Every neighborhood has rules to maintain aesthetics. That’s the shock-and-awe,” she said of the HOA’s disregard for the variance it allowed.
Patel noted, “I haven’t seen any where in Steiner where there are two houses on one lot.”
“1,300-square-feet is not a typical variance. Common sense ought to tell you something. They said they didn’t have to ask us. It seems contradictory because the HOA is to act in our interest,” she said.