LAKEWOOD RANCH — Joani Ellis owes at least $1,600 in fines for having too many decorative items in her neat-as-a pin front yard in Summerfield Glen.
She started locking horns with the Summerfield/Riverwalk Homeowners Association over the excess items back in 2006.
The board allows three items per front yard.
It would have been easy enough for her to dismantle her items, which include about a half-dozen acrylic seashells and fish on a metal grid, two rocks and two metal poodles. But she had put them up in March 1999 and she likes them. She also doesn’t think they damage the image of Lakewood Ranch.
“It’s the principle now,” said Ellis, who can be fined up to $20,000. She has had a lawyer helping her on the case. She refuses the remove the items.
Ellis drove around Summerfield recently and snapped photos of all the front yards she could find with violations of the excess decorative rule.
The yards she made a point of taking pictures of belonged to people like Carol Frankland, past president of the Summerfield/Riverwalk Homeowners Association and current association secretary Marlene Van Pelt.
She also took pictures of the front yard of district supervisor Alan Roth.
Ellis then presented her photos in a PowerPoint presentation before a stunned panel at a recent Summerfield/Riverwalk Homeowners Association compliance meeting.
After she was finished, 10 high-profile residents, including Frankland, Van Pelt and Roth, were sent warning letters about excessive decorative items from the deed restriction office in Town Hall, homeowner president Shirley Surowiec said Thursday.
So why was Ellis singled out if everyone was doing it?
At a recent meeting, Rob Edgington, a new employee in the deed restriction department, talked about how infractions are gathered.
“Rob answered that some violations come from a sweep of the neighborhood and some from reports,” Surowiec said, referring to deed-infraction sweeps and neighbor reports. “Mrs. Ellis was not singled out.”
Ellis said she didn’t take the photos for revenge, but to make a point about fairness and common sense.
“While I have been cited, and previously fined, board members sit in judgment and fine home owners for infractions that they are guilty of themselves,” Ellis said. “That is immoral and ethically wrong.”
Ellis also commented that all the yards she photographed were very nice, leading her to the conclusion that maybe Lakewood Ranch should allow extra decorative items if they go through a modification process.
Only fountains, birdbaths and benches can be allowed via modifications.
Ellis’ $1,600 debt from 2006 has already been turned over to a collection agency and can’t be forgiven, Surowiec said.
A new debt has been accruing since 2009 at $50 per day, Surowiec added.
Frankland confirmed she got a letter, but she said it was for trash, not decorative items, after her husband put the trash by the side of the house.
Frankland says Ellis could have ended all of this by simply dismantling her decorative items when she got her first warning.
“The only thing I have to say is that it is going on since 2006,” Frankland said. “The fine would not be that high if she would have taken care of it when she was supposed to. She has more items than she is allowed and she had time to correct it and she didn’t.”