Litchfield owners challenge POA’s $300K assessment for renourishment
Property owners at the southern end of Litchfield Beach were assessed nearly $300,000 to fund a renourishment project last summer. Two of the owners have challenged the assessment, saying the property owners association exceeded its authority in collecting money to place sand on the public beach.
The association “was protecting its own self-interest in its actions of assessing individual property owners the amount of $300,000 for localized beach renourishment as members of the governing board intended to sell their properties on completion of renourishment and pursued renourishment solely to benefit themselves,” according to claims filed in Circuit Court by Daniel J. and Ann Marie Thompson, who live in the Peninsula neighborhood at Inlet Point.
The Peninsula at Inlet Point Owners Association got state and federal permits to place 440,000 cubic yards of offshore sand on about half a mile of beach to protect houses where the ocean washed across the narrow spit during storms and extreme high tides. It initially proposed a larger project, but scaled that back after owners in other sections of Inlet Point objected. A proposal to truck offshore sand onto the beach was also included in the permit request. That was later dropped after objections from property owners outside the gated community.
The final project was granted extensions to allow work to be done during sea turtle nesting season. It was completed in July.
In October, the association filed a lien against the Thompson property for $8,669 in delinquent assessments and fees. The couple owed a total of $285,975, and the association “has exercised their option to foreclose on the property and declare the whole amount due,” according to court records.
In a response filed last month, the Thompsons denied they owed the money and, requesting a jury trial, asked the court to declare that the association exceeded its authority.
“Defendants in a series of letters and other forms of communication with the Plaintiff and its counsel made it clear, before the commencement of the renourishment project, that Defendants did not desire to participate as it was the equivalent of dumping $300,000 into the Atlantic Ocean,” according to the filing.
It states that 13 owners at Inlet Point South and 58 owners of condos at Inlet Point were exempted from the renourishment project. Others were allowed to opt in, but only asked to pay $50,000, according to the filing.
The Thompsons claim that about 30 percent of the new sand washed into the ocean during Hurricane Ian.
They said that they had sand trucked in to build up a dune to protect their property, but others, “including two owners who served on the Plaintiff’s Association Board, constructed illegal seawalls,” according to the filing.
Hauling in sand or using sand that accreted on the end of Litchfield Beach instead of offshore sand would have reduced the cost of the renourishment project by up to 50 percent, the Thompsons claim.
“The Plaintiff has essentially kept members of the POA in the dark regarding the projected life of the Project, the impact on the projected life based on the increase in storm events, and the consideration of alternatives to the renourishment,” according to the filing. “An assessment of approximately $300,000 per property owner is unconscionable.”
The filing also says that the association is preparing another assessment for more renourishment.
Although the deed covenants for property at the Peninsula allow the association to maintain common areas, the beach is not among them, the Thompsons say.
“Plaintiff has no authority to assess for maintenance of the public beach or to trespass onto private property, individual beachfront lots, and place sand when an individual owner objects to such action,” according to the filing.