Wilma's Endless Debris
Wilma's Endless Debris

Debris by the Truckload
Debris by the Truckload

Piles Everywhere
Piles Everywhere

Wilma's Endless Debris
Wilma's Endless Debris

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Park Models Had to Go
 
The original land managers from Sunrise were replaced by Landmark Management Company.  It was during this period that 11 park model trailers were introduced to the Resort--all 11 units were clearly illegal in accordance with the rules.  

 

Thankfully President John Trotsky stepped up and stopped this influx of Illegal trailers--even though the original 11 were allowed stay.  A compromise was reached allowing those park models until they left the Resort. Thereafter, they could never return, but it finally it took Hurricane Wilma to finally remove all of the park models. 

 

An owner on the lake took advantage of the summer, 1992 to construct a dock and boat lift without a permit.  Note that the Resort Manager did nothing to stop the action.   Once again John Trotsky stood tall in opposition to this violation, even though the dock and boat lift were not removed.  His firm stand on the rules kept the lake from being clogged with boat lifts.

ORA History...continued from previous page

Reflections:  30 Years at ORA, Jerry and Joan Moore, Lot 76

 

Wilma's Aftermath...mountains of debris

click image for slideshow

The movement for fixed screen rooms was initiated by an owner who wanted to sell and install them.  It was about this time that two owners got into a fight over property lines on their docks in the South Marina--this conflict, termed the Mikey Bikey incident, saw the Board buy out one owner and put the lot up for resale.

In January, 2001 Don Richmond agreed that we should terminate Landmark which meant that the Board of Directors was responsible for hiring staff, enforcing rules, and maintaining the Resort.

The board approved requiring Clearance for Sale forms where the Resort manager would inspect for violations that needed to be corrected before the sale could be completed.  This provided leverage to bring the Resort back into compliance with the rules. 

29 dump truck loads of mud (were) hauled into Everglades City and deposited on an open lot--avoiding great costs if hauled to an EPA  decontamination center. 

What has made this Resort the paradise it is has been the commitment owners make to keep their lots and RVs attractive and to volunteer. 

It is important to understand the responsibilities of the management company.  They provided the CAM license under which the Resort legally operated.  They managed the financial records, collected fees and fines, enforced the rules and provided the Resort manager and staff.  The ORA Board did not have any employees but established policies and procedures and prepared the annual budget with advice from the management company.  It must be remembered that board members were primarily males and fishermen--so service on the board was a part-time seasonal responsibility.  Moreover, board members were seldom educated in Florida law governing condominiums, so the Resort was fortunate to have the financial wisdom of Don Groneberg during the early period.

 

In August, 1992 Hurricane Andrew brought serious damage to the Resort.  It was mostly wind that moved some trailers and damaged them on their pads.  The big loss was the complete destruction of the floating docks located near the boat launch at the Motel/Marina.  I believe that some 40 owners lost docks that had been associated with their lot.

 

Screen Rooms Tussle

 

Sometime around 1995, several owners wanted permission to construct durable screen porches under the RV awning.  This produced a great deal of discussion about how the hardware would be stored during the off-season, how the screening would be fastened to the pad, and how the Resort would look full of screen porches.  Screen rooms were approved but they had to be removed from the Resort when the lot owner left after season--consequently only a small number were permitted.

 

The movement for fixed screen rooms was initiated by an owner who wanted to sell and install them.  It was about this time that two owners got into a fight over property lines on their docks in the South Marina--this conflict, termed the Mikey Bikey incident, saw the Board buy out one owner and put the lot up for resale.

 

Finally in 1995, we purchased a lot and we were able to attend board meetings for the first time.  I don’t remember many important issues coming forward for the next few years.  Hap Havermann, a strongman president, established a terrific formula governing how Sunset Cove and the Motel/Marina would reimburse ORA for the cost of operating and maintaining the Rec Hall area and the sewer plant.  Under the condominium documents they had access to the recreational facilities in and around the Rec Hall.  They also had to pay for their use of the sewer system.  That formula has served us well.

 

The Slide-out Era

 

By 1997 RV companies were building units with slide-outs, but those RVs were not permitted in the Resort.  Joan and I listened to owner discussions that were for permitting slide-outs--they argued that the Resort would suffer membership if they were denied.  Other owners argued that slide-outs would clog up the lots and impinge on their neighbor’s space.  Finally slide-outs were approved by the owners with the stipulation that the no slide-out could extend beyond the utility side of the pad.  I know that Dick Berry refused to buy in the Resort until they approved slide-outs.

 

Sewer Access Era Begins

 

In 1998 the board of directors began discussion with Everglades City to participate in a grant to bring sewer access to Chokoloskee Island.  Working together, the City, Copeland and ORA would be able to secure government monies to expand the sewer plant in Everglades City, and in the process rid ORA of the odiferous sewer plant.  The contract was finally negotiated in 2000 where all costs to construct a sewer line to Chokoloskee Island would be borne by the City, while ORA agreed to maintain their own sewer lines within the Resort. 

 

We were finally hooked to the City sewer line in 2002 and the sewer plant was removed in 2003.  Bill MacDermid and Don Richmond negotiated that agreement.

 

In 2000 it became necessary to replace the shake shingles and Ralph Peters supervised that work climbing all over the roofs to see that the shakes were appropriately secured with stainless steel fasteners.  Ralph also worked with the roofer to secure 50 year shingles. 

 

Meanwhile Don Richmond researched our insurance coverage discovering that we were still covered by the parent company of Outdoor Resorts and that we were still insuring items we no longer had--the destroyed boat docks and equipment.  The board approved changing to a brokerage in Naples.  At about this time there was an extensive debate over who was responsible for liability coverage of privately owned lots.  It would take several years of discussion before owners were finally convinced that the Board could not assume liability for those lots.

 

My Time on the Board 

 

In 1998 Bill MacDermid invited me to join the Board of Director to fill a vacancy.  When I agreed, he then told me that I would be the Treasurer because that position had nothing to do.  The person I replaced always demanded that board meetings be scheduled in accordance with the tide chart--apparently he was a dedicated fisherman.  I spent 1998-9 trying to comprehend the financial statements mailed to me by Landmark-- it was impossible to understand our cash flow and position.  Our audit that year talked about “due to” and “due from” statements and when I visited the auditor requesting information on the auditing process--he told me he was employed by Landmark and refused to answer my questions. 

 

By 1999-2000 I discovered that the board with the advice of Landmark had used dedicated reserve funds to cover emergency costs of termite infestation in the Rec Hall.  After talking with Don Richmond, we special assessed owners to restore funds to the boat lift and paint reserves.  Even with that correction in the budget process, it was impossible to comprehend how Landmark was maintaining our financial records.  Don gave me permission to terminate the existing auditor and employ an independent auditor reporting directly to the Board.  Their preliminary findings informed us that they could not provide a clear audit. 

 

Getting our Financial House in Order

 

In January, 2001 Don Richmond agreed that we should terminate Landmark which meant that the Board of Directors was responsible for hiring staff, enforcing rules, and maintaining the Resort.  At the Annual Meeting in February, Don left the Board and I was elected president--a position I would hold for the next 5 years.  We still needed a financial management company with a CAM license. 

 

The bookkeeper for Landmark left Landmark to start her own company. She had helped me to discover that our accounts were comingled with other resort accounts.  So I hired her to maintain our financial records for FY2001-2.  Then my world in early March crashed when our checks were returned for lack of funds--we were some $35,000 short of meeting our obligations until the new fiscal year began on April 1. 

 

The first call came from the sewer company that pumped out our sewer plant--imagine what it would have been like if we had to close down the sewer plant!  Clearing the several bad checks took considerable time and effort.  Fortunately I had a great board and Frank Goeson, treasurer, closely supervised the work of our new bookkeeper.   I used my personal line of credit for some accounts. The Board approved securing a $50,000 line of credit with the bank, and they froze our reserves until the credit line was closed later that year.   

 

Frank Goeson, unhappy with the interim management company, researched and found Steve Hart, Collier Financial which the Board approved as our new management company.  Steve has been wonderful providing clear and exact monthly balance sheets along with financial guidance in the budget process.  I am pleased to see that he continues to provide those services into 2016. 

 

Pay Your Bills on Time, Everyone

 

In addition to questionable practices by the management company, our cash flow was often slowed by owners paying their maintenance fees late.  One owner told me that he paid half when due and the other half about the middle of the quarter--that way he got to use his money part time and “they” got to use his money part time. 

 

We needed to establish a culture where owners understood that “they” was really “us.”  Owners showed their disdain for fines under the rules, but they supported a new policy where we charged 1.5% interest monthly for late payment of maintenance fees.  We also established a policy where any lot owner over one month late would be turned over to the attorney for collection, and after two months we could begin foreclosure.  Our cash flow significantly improved.

 

Under the condominium documents seven directors were elected to serve one year terms.  That meant that each new board might not have much institutional memory.  The owners approved an amendment creating two year terms for directors staggered so that only part of the board was elected each year.

 

Early in my service as president, we constantly heard complaints about the way selected owners left the kitchen and upstairs lounge unclean and in disarray.  Donna Kostens and Virginia Grillo were directing the popular Cooking with Friends and they often had to clean up a mess.  I decided to appoint Donna as the Kitchen Bitch in charge of arranging events held upstairs and insisting on improving the kitchen.  She continues to carry out this important function in 2015.

 

The lake owners paid maintenance fees to keep the boat lift operating and fees to fund reserves.  Even though the lake and lift were limited common elements, the board agreed that we had oversight regarding rules, service to the lift, and general maintenance of the docks and sea walls within the lake.  I had an excellent vice president, Bob Young, who accepted responsibility for inspecting the sea walls on the Bay and lake and in the South Marina.  It was important to keep the sea walls solid to prevent silting in the lake.  Working with lake owners the Board approved rules governing the lake and boat lift--setting limits on boat sizes and weights.

 

The board approved requiring Clearance for Sale forms where the Resort manager would inspect for violations that needed to be corrected before the sale could be completed.  This provided leverage to bring the Resort back into compliance with the rules.  Sheds were most often a source of rule violation.  The complaint was that the original specifications created a shed where men and many women could not stand upright without banging their heads.  We approved rule changes that increased the height of sheds with the stipulation that the Resort manager would measure and approve each shed alteration.

 

Connecting to the City Sewer

 

In 2002 the sewer was connected to the City pump basin.  Immediately, we had a huge influx of brackish water that overwhelmed the City pumps.  Our agreement with the City gave us the opportunity to correct any waste water overage, so the Board began to pursue contractors who could help us correct the problem.  We first contracted to have the sewer lines cameraed only to discover that the south side of the Resort had only two manholes installed--the developer had failed to complete the work. 

 

We then contracted to have 12 manholes installed only to discover that the 12th manhole had so much upwelling of water that the opening could not be pumped out.  The same contractor examined the lake for inflow and outflow of storm water--there was so much debris in the lake outlet under Satellite #1 that it was nearly closed.  Even with the new manholes and some repairs we continued to have trouble with brackish water incursions. 

 

Joe Balsis, Resort Manager, much later discovered the new manholes were not properly installed and he was able to have the work corrected.  We contracted to have the sewer plant removed and that space decontaminated and sodded.  It is a lovely space that we could not sell or make into a new lot and several times we have had committees propose plans for using the space--so far no suggestions have been finalized.

 

Hurricane Wilma Disaster

 

We thought everything was coming along fine when Wilma destroyed much of the Resort in October, 2005.  Much more devastating than Andrew, Wilma brought a wall of Bay water and mud across the island some six feet deep--almost every trailer in the Resort was destroyed.  Many utility posts were destroyed so LCEC cut off electricity.  Water and sewer were shut down.  Thanks to Ken Dampier Jr, Resort Manager, he quickly acted to restore the Resort--he and his staff cleared the extensive debris that overwhelmed all of the fences, brought in Bobcat operators to clear mud from the streets and lots, and acted to provide for debris from the lots and RVs to be piled out front to be hauled away. 

 

He had 29 dump truck loads of mud hauled into Everglades City and deposited on an open lot--avoiding great costs if hauled to an EPA  decontamination center.  Danny Williams worked with LCEC to permit booted connections bypassing downed utility posts that brought electricity back to the Resort.  Ralph Peters worked with contractors to restore air conditioning to the Rec Hall.  Everyone chipped in to clear the Resort, while Carolyn Caughman and Trudi Schmidt planned and carried out activities to bring pleasure to owners. 

 

The Board approved a special assessment of $1,000 per lot to restore the Rec Hall, bathrooms, fencing, and park lighting.  I struggled with Collier County to permit us to rebuild the upstairs porch making it usable in all weather--we finally had to act without a permit.  The same was true when replacing the owner’s shed.  Jim Markee offered to plan, purchase and restore the lights all around the Resort--he also organized a committee of owners to fulfill the task. 

 

Larry Beck and Harvey Mannon organized a group of owners to dismantle and rebuild the fences around the Resort.  The end result was that the Resort looked better than before the hurricane and it has only improved every year since, thanks to excellent boards and resort managers.  Paradise achieved!!

 

Frank Goeson and I decided to leave the board in February, 2007.  I would be remiss if I did not include three anecdotes that illustrate our humanity.  There were always unusual requests made of the president and the board--someone requested that we find and destroy the chicken that roamed the Resort (Wilma took care of that) while another wanted the doves silenced. 

 

But three situations stand out:

 

  •  Doris Schoonmaker, a wonderful lady, had located her trailer too far back on her lot.  The neighbor behind her complained and I asked her to move.  Doris could be very stern and she filled my ears about the complaint, but we got the trailer moved quite easily.  The very next morning there was a knock on our door and it was Doris bringing me a freshly baked loaf of banana bread--she did not apologize but thought I needed a treat.

 

  • An owner on Lot A complained that the Washington Palm on Lot B behind him was forcing cracks in his concrete pad.  While certain that this was not accurate, I called Lot B owner telling him that I would have the Palm removed because it was potentially dangerous.  He agreed only to have Lot A owner have an attorney inform him that action would be taken against him.  Lot B owner then told me that the tree could never be removed.  Once again Wilma took care of the issue later.

 

  • The Activities Committee award prizes to the best decorated lot at Christmas.  Joan and I arrived in the Resort in early January only to be challenged by a mother who thought her son should have won.  I received letter from the mother every month for a year challenging the decision and questioning the legality of the Activities Committee vote.  I had to respond to every letter within 30 days and it was only resolved by permitting her to address the Annual Meeting the next year.

 

The Resort Today

 

In 2007 the new board elected Larry Beck president with Dick Berry as vice-president.  In March Ken Dampier Jr. resigned and after much negotiation Larry Beck resigned and became the first resident owner as Resort manager. 

 

Dick Berry served for two years during which the South Marina docks and dock board were reconstructed--John Trotsky guided that project for Dick. 

 

Larry Graham became president in 2009 and under his guidance the boat lift was completely restored. 

 

In 2010 Joe Balsis replaced Larry Beck as resident owner/Resort manager.  Since that time Joe has earned his CAM license.

 

While I was president an owner, without permission, had an epoxy surface applied to his lot.  This began a series of conflicted discussions about permitting this application.  We had shortly before this finally removed all lots painted other than ORA gray.  After a tense debate, the board approved epoxy surfaces of a specific color and application.  Sometime around 2010, Tom McLean led a movement asking the board to approve brick overlay on concrete pads.

 

One of the more significant improvements since my time on the board was the revision and updating of the condo documents under the guidance of Joyce Laeser and our attorney. 

 

Epilogue  

 

Looking back I am reminded that Charlie Ball was an early director of the Bazaar an important fund raiser for the Resort.  Later Ted Carder took that event to new heights and now Sheri and Dave Parsons with Don and Carolyn Caughman have reached even higher levels of income.  Moe and Valerie Bureau have committed their time to Wednesday lunches.  I am certain that I have left out contributions of importance by many owners. 

 

What has made this Resort the paradise it is has been the commitment owners make to keep their lots and RVs attractive and to volunteer.  We are and have been a community of chiefs who have had to accept rules that restrict our lives.  You all did well.