Nearly 100 elderly residents of Spanish Lakes Golf Village share grievances with city officials

PORT ST. LUCIE – Frustrated with what they view as slow or non-responsive answers from their own administration, dozens of elderly residents of Spanish Lakes Golf Village packed a meeting room in the Civic Center here May 27 to air their complaints with city officials in hopes of finding someone to mediate their issues.

As the 2 p.m. start time of the meeting approached, a steady stream of the residents filed into the Mid-Florida Credit Union Event Center, some arriving in wheelchairs or on walkers and others hobbling in with the assistance of canes. Assistant City Manager David Graham and Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo orchestrated the meeting at the request of Mayor Gregory Oravec after a handful of Golf Village residents addressed the Council on May 10 to complain of what they viewed as heavy-handed tactics used this spring during the annual spring cleanup campaign. Park management demanded residents remove lattice from carports, dig up pavers from the ground adjacent to driveways, remove storage sheds from their properties and pressure-wash and paint their driveways, among other requirements.

“I don’t like to see this many unhappy residents with a shared issue,” Mayor Oravec said May 10. “So, I’m looking for the Planning [Department] file on it, and I am looking for information from the Legal Department and/or Community Services where people can file housing discrimination complaints. The city is not party to any agreements between you and the property owner, so that’s going to complicate it. I hope that we can influence the process and get people to do the right thing on that.”

Councilwoman Caraballo opened up the latest meeting introducing the city staff members in attendance and reiterating the mayor’s stance.

“The idea for today’s meeting was to gather your input and provide you with any information that we can,” she said. “Since this is a landlord/tenant relationship, we are limited in what we can actually do. Once we compile your comments, we will schedule a meeting with the Wynne Building Corporation.”

Councilman Caraballo then offered the microphone to residents who wanted to air their complaints publicly. Most only provided their first names for fear of retribution from the park management, and some feared having their comments used. One who didn’t, Dorinda Roy, brought up a common complaint concerning driveways. Since the residents purchase their homes but rent the land they sit on, they have a hard time understanding why they should be responsible for the maintenance of the driveways, particularly when they begin to cave in.

“I want to know who’s responsible for the driveways when they crack,” she said. “I have a neighbor who lives on Guadalupe Street and her driveway is caving in and I have tried to help her fix it to no avail. You’d need an engineer to fix this driveway, and I’m afraid one day her car might get stuck in the pavement. She got a notice to fix the driveway and she’s afraid of getting the second notice.”

Although Ms. Roy admitted she had no outstanding issues to rectify on her own home, she did say her rent went up more than 7 percent this year, the highest annual increase since she’s ever seen. Due to neighbor’s issues, she dug out all the Spanish Lakes documents she had signed after the former manager Mark Cieslinski approved her to sign the lease several years ago. After Golf Village residents pass a background and credit check, Wynne Building Corporation employees give them an approval certificate enabling them purchase a home but do not hand out the bylaws and prospectus until after they purchase a home and come in to sign the lease. Her research led her to wonder what rights, if any, tenants actually have in Spanish Lakes Communities.

“What defines my home when I pay lot rent?” she exclaimed. “I understand more since I started reading all the documents, but I don’t understand why the driveway is my responsibility or the water and electrical lines underneath the ground when I pay monthly lot rent.”

Several other residents complained about the demand to remove the lattice, which provided shade and privacy to their carport areas. While some caved in out of fear of being evicted, others refused, insisting the lattice was on the property when the manager approved them to sign their leases, which meant everything at the time was in order.

The story that raised the most eyebrows, however, was that of Michael Ortseifer, who signed the contract for his home last December. The park repossessed the mobile home late last year after the former owner died, and workers had already begun making repairs. Mr. Ortseifer decided to stop a couple of times over the next couple of months to check on their progress. Both times he was left with more questions than answers.

“That’s when I noticed the lattice was gone and I was really disappointed because I hoped it would keep the debris from blowing on my car,” he said. “When I asked why they removed it, the workers said the county didn’t allow it anymore. The next time I visited, I was shocked to see the storage building on the rear patio had disappeared. When I again asked why, they again told me it was a county issue. I know better because the county has no jurisdiction in the city.”

Mr. Ortseifer, 82, subsequently spoke with the realtor who’d sold him the home but was told he would not be reimbursed for the missing items. His biggest fear from those issues was the electrical line park employees had left dangling in the elements after cutting the power to the storage building that had actually been bolted to the patio in accordance to city standards. He tried for two weeks to get Golf Village Manager Neal Bernard – who replaced the former manager who succumbed to the coronavirus last year – to ask park employees to connect the wire to an external outlet if he paid for the materials. He never got an answer.

“Whoever cut the electric line obviously didn’t know what they were doing,” he added. “I had to hire an electrician to determine if the line was dead or alive. He then converted that for me into an exterior outlet. Last Tuesday I spoke with Neal about reimbursing me for the $150 fee, but he has yet to get back with me.”

All the residents said they either found violation notices taped to their homes or noticed a stranger walking around with a clipboard when they came home. Cindi Hull Tellier got such a note, giving her and her disabled husband 14 days to remove the storage shed from the premises or relocate it onto the roofed concrete patio behind their home. Because she wanted clarification and could not get Mr. Bernard to return her phone calls, she went in search for his red truck the following week and instead ran into Wynne Building Corporation Area Director Steve Rodriguez who agreed to look at the shed with her. The structure has been on the property since they purchased the home in 2011.

Mr. Rodriguez told me we had to remove our shed or move it under the covered patio in the rear,” she said. “I talked to two different shed people, and one of them came out and looked at it and said, it cannot go under the roof of the patio. If we were to put it there, we would have no place for our patio furniture.”

After the residents finished speaking that day, Building Code Official Joel Dramis insisted the City of Port St. Lucie played no role in the removal of their carport lattice this year.

“My department relies on the rules outlined in the Florida Building Code,” he said.

“The Florida Building Code has no specific language that addresses lattice on carport structures.”

Neighborhood Services Director Carmen Capezzuto also addressed Golf Village residents that afternoon and insisted the city would never go on private property to remove a non-conforming storage shed.

“I’ve been to a lot of neighborhood meetings and have never seen one quite like this where most of the issues involve a third party,” he said. “Typically, residents may be unhappy about things the city can control, such as a roadway project, speeding or noise concerns.”

Councilwoman Caraballo closed the meeting by telling the residents she would soon report back to the rest of the City Council with her findings from the meeting before scheduling a meeting with the Wynne Building Corporation, the parent company of Spanish Lakes Communities.

The management failed to respond to a series of questions on these issues submitted by the Hometown News to Wynne Building Corporation Attorney Andres Velez by press time on June 2.

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