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East Lake community tastes independence

The 8,000 residents in the sprawling East Lake Woodlands community officially won their independence Wednesday.

In a peaceful transition marked by a morning signing ceremony, the overseers stepped aside.

"It's like getting the right to vote," said Doug Philipp, the new president of the Community Association Board.

A developer had controlled the board since the neighborhood's inception in 1977, a common arrangement in new community associations.

On Wednesday, officials representing the Mutual Benefit Life Assurance Co. of Newark, N.J., resigned their posts on the board, paving the way for Philipp to take over.

"The developer has been running this community for 17 years," Philipp said. "Commencing (Wednesday) the homeowners call the shots. It's no radical change, but it's a change in feeling by a lot of the homeowners that they will be making their own decisions."

The board determines how to spend each household's monthly dues of $14.95 on maintenance related to the neighborhood's roads, ponds and landscapes. Board members will control a budget exceeding $700,000.

"This is a historic occasion," new board secretary Virginia Williams said. "We took pictures."

East Lake Woodlands encompasses 2,000 acres, two golf courses, pool and tennis facilities and 56 subdivisions. The developer will continue to operate the country club, Philipp said.

The new board may raise dues by about $2. But for now, the developer will help fund new projects with a one-time $150,000 payment, Philipp said. The company also has agreed to pay an annual $40,000 fee for wear on roads traveled by country club members.

Allan Lipsky, the outgoing general manager, said the change was emotional.

"There's an element of sadness because it was a labor of love," said Lipsky, who has worked in East Lake Woodlands since 1984. "But there's also an element of satisfaction because we actually realized the goal we had of building a vibrant community."

The new leadership will be good for the community, Lipsky said.

"Developers like ourselves are not in the business of staying and controlling a community," he said. "The positive side is it's being run by a group of residents' peers, so you don't have the inherent conflicts between residents and developers."

Philipp said the transition was friendly.

"We had some tough negotiations, but we were friends throughout," Philipp said. "There was no bad blood."

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