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Residents attempt to regain their back yards

The homeowner's association has notified them that it owns a 20-foot area surrounding a wall, which takes away most of the residents' back yards.

Barbara Faiola remembers walking through the home she planned to buy on Cedar Dune Drive and hearing the broker comment on the spacious back yard and the seller refer to the ivy she had planted along the boundary wall.

"That would certainly lead me to think the back yard was mine," she said. "It never even entered my mind that it might not be mine."

Since the back yard was enclosed by a masonry wall with no access except through her front yard, she had every reason to assume it was her property. But what Faiola didn't know was that the Wildewood Village homeowner's association owned a 20-foot strip along the entire length of the rear wall.

Three days after she bought the house for $104,000 in April, Faiola was shocked to get a citation from the homeowner's association for building a porch too close to the 20-foot zone.

"I feel like I was lied to," she said. "And I believe that's how everyone feels who bought property here along this wall."

Faiola is one of 33 homeowners in Wildewood Village who are maintaining property in their back yards that doesn't belong to them. Many of the residents claim they were not shown surveys or informed of the fact before they closed on the houses. Now, one resident is leading a campaign to get the homeowner's association to deed the strip to adjacent homeowners.

"It costs me $40 a month to maintain it and it's not mine," said Mari Lasater, who first broached the issue. "We are not allowed to grow anything on that property, build anything or raise the wall. This is worse than a dictator."

Homeowner's association president Roger Mitchell said the board of directors wants to deed the land to the homeowners but it will require a vote of all of Wildewood Village's homeowners. A previous meeting and a survey on the issue had low response, but Mitchell said a four-person committee has volunteered to go door-to-door in the neighborhood to get the necessary support.

"My belief is that it would be most effective for the 33 homeowners affected and for all 144 homeowners to deed that property over to them, however, it can only be done with the vote and consent of the 144 residents we work for."

If the committee does not get the necessary votes, and some adjacent homeowners were to stop taking care of the 20-foot zone, Mitchell said, the association might have to take extraordinary steps to keep up the buffer, and that could raise each resident's annual assessment from $100 to about $146.

Wedged between Linebaugh Avenue and Nixon Road, the 11-year-old subdivision was developed and marketed by Pulte Homes.

Doug Tripp, president of Pulte Homes' west Florida division, said he was not with the company when Wildewood was developed, but typically giving an easement to the homeowner's association allows the association to have access to the boundary wall for maintenance.

"Pulte has no vested interest in the homeowner's association," Tripp said. "It's totally run by the homeowners so if they wanted to deed it back to them they are certainly within their rights to give it back."

Tripp could not comment on whether Pulte representatives told prospective buyers about the 20-foot zone owned by association.

Faiola's real estate agent, Sharon Clayton of Coldwell Banker, acknowledged that she has sold several homes on Cedar Dune Drive, but declined any further comments on the buyers' misunderstanding of the property lines.