Officials Discussed HOAs, Laws at Meeting; but a New Ordinance Has Not Been Developed regarding the Homeowner Associations

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Byline: SHAKAYA ANDRES

A recent workshop to review Florida's Sunshine Laws and how they affect homeowner associations' ability to rule on building applications in their communities was a "toothless meeting," a Sawgrass County Club representative said.

Walter Rohrer, a member of that Ponte Vedra Beach area's association as well as the St. Johns County Civic Roundtable advisory panel, said County Attorney Patrick McCormack held the special meeting last week in the County Auditorium simply to keep the public off county staff's "backs" because little had been done to develop a new ordinance for homeowner associations.

"It was a repeat of everything that took place six months ago," Rohrer said. "I was surprised that nothing had been done."

But McCormack said, "The purpose of this workshop is to inform of the issue. Do you know what's at stake, the pros and cons? I'm attempting to give you [associations' representatives] appreciation for what's out there in terms of the Florida laws and county regulations pertaining to the HOA subject."

Several months ago, McCormack said some homeowner associations' architectural review committees were violating the Sunshine Laws, which call for open meetings and other visibility for many public boards. Some associations were not aware of the extent of the laws or the penalties for breaking them, he said.

His office began accepting feedback from communities in hopes of coming up with county rules for homeowner associations' compliance with the Sunshine Laws.

"There remains a wide spectrum of ideas and concerns," McCormack said. "At some point, it must be recognized that there was appropriate public input prior to formal ... [County Commission] hearings. I think we're at that point. I think this will be introduced to the board in the February or March time frame."

But some association representatives who attended last week's meeting thought the county would be closer to a resolution by now.

"After the meeting, I asked McCormack when they would get to the ordinance promised six months ago; he replied that this was a step in that direction," Rohrer said. "[It's] a very small baby step. Patrick, to his credit, as been forward with the notion that a change is necessary."

Rohrer said his association prefers an option brought up at the meeting that calls for a break in the relationship between the county and the homeowner associations.

That option would eliminate associations' mandate to operate under the Sunshine Laws, but would also mean they could no longer pre-approve a building application. …