BOCA RATON, Fla. (CBS12) — Some homeowners in a Boca Raton subdivision tell CBS12 News that they are increasingly concerned that some rule enforcement and red tape from their HOA indicate they are not welcome in their own neighborhood.
The residents didn't want to reveal their identities out of fear of retaliation, but they tell their stories.
The Avalon development in Boca Raton is about a two-mile walk to the Boca Raton West Synagogue. Orthodox families had to walk out to Palmetto Park Road and down Highway 441 to make it to prayer, until one day a neighbor installed a gate into his existing fence and allowed the Orthodox Jewish members in the community to use the gate.
Nearly a dozen Orthodox Jewish families live at the Avalon in Boca and on the Sabbath, they walk, rather than drive, to the synagogue as an expression of their devotion to God. This gate makes that walk shorter and safer for everyone.
"We maintain the custom that we don't use vehicles from Friday evening through Saturday evening, it's not really an option, it's just how we live our life," said one neighbor.
But months after the gate was installed, the HOA said, "not so fast," and slapped the homeowners with a lawsuit, It claims the gate is a security risk because it creates a secondary access point to the community, but residents tell CBS12 News the arguments don't hold water.
"You have homes with no fences, homes with short fences and homes with metal fences," said one resident.
Our crew drove around the subdivision and found cracked fences and very short fences on the same side of the development and multiple homes in other areas with no fences at all. Neighbors say the gate in question is securely locked when not in use.
"Once we knew this was nothing new to the community other than Orthodox Jews were using it then we knew it was more than just, 'Oh, you can't make an adjustment to your property,'" said another resident.
Avalon’s HOA by-laws regarding property improvements like gates and fences, as quoted in the lawsuit, are short and simple, saying in part, "No improvements shall be constructed, installed, painted, erected, removed, planted or maintained in or on any lot if the same shall be visible outside of that lot..."
The gate is not visible from the street or the sidewalk.
So, CBS12 News reached out to the HOA attorney who filed the lawsuit, Guy Shir. We wanted to know if properties with partial or no fencing are also being sued over secondary access points and which bylaws, if any, does the gate violate?
Guy Shir emailed that he would address our questions nearly a month ago. He never did.
Shortly after the HOA announced they were suing over the gate, this anonymous letter from someone claiming to live in Avalon was sent to the neighboring HOA in Rainberry Park, on the other side of the gate. The letter points out that nearly a dozen Orthodox Jews are using the path and the gate right now and warns more will be moving in if it isn’t stopped.
"Why is it so widely accepted that we can voice concern for Orthodox families, but if you replace that with Muslim families or African American or insert race here and there would be an immediate distress call to the media," said a resident.
On Friday, the Parkview Estates HOA Board, which oversees Avalon, reported to members of the community that someone had filed a complaint with the Anti-defamation League. The board and their lawyer met with the ADL to discuss the allegations in the complaint, which they did not describe in detail.
The board says, after that meeting, the ADL closed the complaint.
Meanwhile, the Avalon HOA decided the issue of whether gates should be allowed along the perimeter of the development should be decided by the homeowners whose votes must be submitted by Thursday.