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Garage rules rile Hunter's Green

(ran PC edition of PASCO TIMES)

Don't sue over deed restrictions, their community association manager says. Just ask the board to change the rule.

A couple of months had passed since Hunter's Green residents who park cars in their driveways _ a violation of deed restrictions _ had heard about fines or other punishments for their transgressions.

Then last week the community association redoubled its efforts. Homeowners who park in their driveways received certified letters warning that they would be fined $100 per day up to $1,000 if they did not fall in line.

"The poor postman had so many signatures to get for certified mail that he was asking everybody what the heck was going on," said Cathy Redford of Magnolia Chase.

She and her husband hosted a get-together Monday night for others in Hunter's Green who are tired of the garage restriction and others like it. Dozens dropped by, some armed with files of correspondence to and from the association. The words "petition" and "class-action lawsuit" were tossed around like tennis balls.

The complaining residents fall into three groups.

First there are those who drive trucks, large cars and sport utility vehicles that are too wide or too long for the standard Hunter's Green garage.

Steve Matthews drives an 18-foot-long Chevrolet Suburban for his job. The Suburban dwarfs his garage, which is just over 16 feet long and narrow. He said the developer told him he could park his Suburban in the driveway, a promise that he says the community association has since rescinded.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Matthews said. "I'm not going to sell my car."

Tom Finley's normal-sized Isuzu Rodeo and Pontiac Bonneville won't fit side by side in his two-car garage. "I spent an entire Sunday taking everything off the walls and squeezed them in there," he said. "You couldn't really open the doors, and when I backed out I ripped the side mirror off the door.

"I'm not going to pay a fine, but I'm not going to necessarily get a lawyer and go to court over it, either," he said.

Then there are residents who have converted one of their garage bays into another room. Randi Bartholomew and her husband, Fred, own three cars and had a three-car garage. They refashioned one of the bays into a playroom.

So now they have a two-car garage, which they explained to the association in response to their first warning letter. The association answered that the number of garage doors should equal the number of cars inside.

"Because the playroom is not technically a garage anymore, they want us to cover up that bay with stucco and redo the whole driveway so that the outside looks like we have a two-car garage," she said.

"That defeats the whole purpose. We designed the playroom so that we could take it out easily and convert the room back to a garage if we ever moved so it wouldn't affect our property values."

There were also plenty at the Redford home who didn't park in their driveways, but were against policies that they consider intrusive.

"The problem is if someone builds a purple house beside you or if a car's up on blocks in the driveway, not if someone's Suburban won't fit in their garage," said Connie Gannaway, who parks in her garage.

When John Thompson got a letter for letting the wax myrtles behind his pool grow too tall, he decided to let his lawn speak for him. "They've turned me into a protester," he said. "I just put two big pink flamingos in my front yard. Let 'em argue with that."

Those who have lawyers have been cautioned that theirs is an uphill battle. These homeowners signed the deed restrictions, legal documents in which they promised to follow the rules.

Ann Johnson, the community association's manager, said residents need to go through the proper channels, not hire lawyers. Residents should simply ask the master board to change the rule, she said. If five of the seven members agree, they would refer the issue to the 30 voting representatives from each neighborhood. If three-fourths of them agree, the parking rule could be changed.

"Usually people enjoy the benefits of a deed restricted community until it becomes a personal agenda for them," Johnson said. "In reality, they have plenty of opportunities to have the rules reviewed. They all have a voice. They just don't take the time to use it."