Residents Groups Will Be Learning Procedures; Homeowners Associations Will Receive More Training on Building Permits

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Byline: SHAKAYA ANDRES

Homeowner associations that want to keep some control over building permits and construction in their communities will soon have to meet tougher regulations.

If homeowner associations want to review and sign off on building permits they must register with the county and get training on quasi-judicial procedures, rules for public officers and the state's public records and meeting laws.

The St. Johns County Commission passed an ordinance requiring those measures last week in response to complaints that some associations were unknowingly violating the state's Sunshine Laws, which call for open meetings and more transparency in decision making, and concerns raised by the county attorney.

"What this establishes is a regulation process," said Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson. "I think we have a strong chance of success."

Walter Rohrer, president of the Ponte Vedra Beaches Coalition, said the ruling has been a long time coming and applauded the county for its efforts to help protect associations.

"I think this is step in the right direction and I give Patrick [McCormack] full credit for it," he said. "He took it upon himself to warn a number of HOA's that they were exposed."

County Attorney Patrick McCormack told the coalition last year that some homeowner associations' architectural review committees were violating the Sunshine Laws. Some associations weren't aware of the extent of those laws or the penalties for breaking them, which was a factor in drafting the new ordinance, he said.

"Most of the members that sit on these boards are volunteers in a residential community atmosphere and may find it rigorous complying with the Florida Sunshine Law and public act," said McCormack.

Under the ordinance, the association must register with the county once every five years. …