ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — For as long as anyone can remember, people moving into the Wedgefield community in east Orange County were either told the Wedgefield HOA was voluntary, or their properties were “HOA free.”
Both turned out to be a lie.
The realizations began in the beginning of this year, when a new board swept into power and set out to revamp the limping organization, which for years had one board member, no overhead and only existed to maintain a website and publish a monthly newsletter.
Dues for anyone who does wish to be a voting member are voluntary – and a measly $54 per year. Residents say approximately 10% of the properties paid them.
As part of their quest, the new HOA board decided to review and amend the community’s guidelines and enforce what was already on the books. In September, letters were sent out warning about fines for properties that were out of compliance.
That’s when community members realized that, thanks to deed restrictions implemented by the developer decades ago, the HOA had power over all properties in Wedgefield, not just the ones paying dues.
“A lot of people are hitting that reality, like holy cow, there is actually an HOA here and they do have some restrictions,” Adam Yunker said. “A lot of people move here because they didn’t want those restrictions.”
The restrictions include aesthetic upgrades to make the community neater and more uniform, like fencing guidelines and where people can store vehicles and equipment.
Some of the biggest pushback has to do with a new set of rules around animals. The number of horses that can be owned is limited. The board must approve any chickens or other farm animals, and poultry is limited to a maximum of 12. According to how the rules are written, animals other than “pets” like dogs and cats can only be outside for an hour each day.
Those proposals have not gone over well in the rural southern part of the community, where owning farm animals on vast properties spaced far apart is common.
“There’s been horses that have lived here longer than the current HOA board, and they’re trying to say, you can’t have them out for more than an hour a day,” Jenna Sanchez said. “I just feel like it’s not needed.”
Just like the animal rules, other changes appear to be written in ways to give the HOA board broad power to interpret their own rules as they see fit. It has led to concerns residents could be exposed to the whims of individual board members, who may choose to deny a chicken permit or change the way elections are conducted out of personal grievance.
WFTV emailed the HOA president, Kelly Hoffman, several times requesting an interview to discuss the changes and the way the board was approaching the revitalization of itself. She denied all requests.
“The Board has answered all questions promptly… This story/interview request is ill-timed, as the November Newsletter should be delivered tomorrow to all residents, which has additional information,” Hoffman wrote.
WFTV reviewed the newsletter she referenced, which provided a Q and A section that answered some basic questions and tried to push back against what Hoffman considered misinformation being delivered by the rebel groups, including whether board members are paid.
However, it did not answer a more thorough question emailed to Hoffman that she did not respond to about why the new rules created so much “gray” area, and whether that was beneficial to community members.
For their part, the rebels accused Hoffman of spreading disinformation too, and accused her of shutting meetings down when opponents aired their views. Several agreed she had some good proposals, but said she was going about enacting them the wrong way.
“A lot of these things read like a massive power grab,” Charlie Preusser said, “And questions about those aren’t met with conversation. They’re met with explanation and hostility.”
Preusser, Sanchez and Yunker said they were working to get as many of the community members signed up as HOA members ahead of the Nov. 9 vote, with the goal of denying Hoffman a majority to approve the changes.
They said the next order of business would be holding a referendum to recall her and the other board members, and installing people on the board who would resume the longstanding policy of leaving homeowners alone.
“We have food trucks every Tuesday. A lot of the community here organizes a Halloween parade,” Yunker said. “That’s the kind of stuff this HOA really should be engaging in.”
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