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Commissioners' action averts condo war
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Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
The area of a requested vacation lies inside the red box. Residents of Kalmia condominiums #5 say they need control of the area to add security to the parking lot for safety’s sake.
Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
Pinellas County Commissioners agree to vacating the “northern triangle,” marked in red Dec. 10 – only a part of a request from residents of Kalmia condominiums #5. Residents of Kalmia’s buildings 1 through 4 oppose any loss of access to the rear of the complex.
CLEARWATER – Residents of Kalmia Condominium #5, a 55-plus facility in Clearwater, petitioned Pinellas County in October for a vacation of a portion of right-of-way on Ottawa Road and Skyview Avenue in the Gates Knoll Subdivision.

The residents say prostitutes and drug dealers are using their parking lot. For safety’s sake, they want to put up a gate and restrict access.

But the neighbors, residents of Kalmia Condos, 1-4, object to the plan. They want the road left open. They prefer using the “back way” on Ottawa Road to the main entrance on Highland Avenue due to heavy traffic. They are concerned about access for emergency response. And they say that others, including people living on Ottawa, use the access to cut through to Highland.

But, Kalmia #5 says people using the access are trespassing on their property. They say they should be able to close the access to provide better security in the parking lot.

Residents of each condominium own their building. There is no joint ownership. Roadways are shared by an agreement put in place when the buildings were constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, except for the parking lot owned by Kalmia #5. The buildings also have separate ownership associations. They share responsibility for recreation space.

Peter Graham, an attorney representing Kalmia #5, told commissioners that problems were continuing in the parking lot. He said strangers were using the secluded area day and night for drug and sexual activities and then throwing trash from such activities out the window. He said attempts to work with Clearwater police to solve the problem had been unsuccessful.

The county commission first heard the case Oct. 8, but decided to continue it until December to give time for the parties to talk and come to an agreement. Both sides also had said that many of the residents were snowbirds and not yet back for the season.

Graham reported that the parties had met Dec. 2 but were unable to agree. The other condominium owners are trespassing on Kalmia #5’s property, “which is the basis of our opposition,” he said. Approval of the vacation would allow Kalmia #5 to have control over their property to help with its security problem.

Twenty-year Kalmia #5 resident Judy De Vries said the problem had been ongoing for the past three to four years.

“But it has really multiplied,” she said.

De Vries and other women from Kalmia #5 met with Clearwater police, but she said it didn’t result in many answers. The police recommended that the condominium owners put up signs. De Vries said they put up three, which say trespassers would be arrested if they didn’t leave the parking lot when told. However, police advised them it was not safe to approach the vehicles.

Kalmia #5 put in a speed bump to try to alleviate the problem. While they were gone over the summer it was removed, she said.

“We’re the only one of four buildings with a parking lot,” she said. “The rest have parking in front of their buildings and easy access out the main entrance.”

James Proud, president of Kalmia #5’s homeowners association, said there had been problems with the parking lot for the 14 years he had lived there.

“It’s always been a problem and we’ve done several things to counteract it,” he said.

They put in lights, installed the speed bump, which was removed, and installed signs.

“Nothing worked,” he said.

He said he observes cars pulling up side-by-side and exchanging packages. He said prostitutes bring their customers to the parking lot.

“I think we have the right to protect our property,” he said. “We’ve tried to work with the other buildings with no cooperation whatsoever.”

Attorney Brandon Huffman, representing Kalmia #s 1, 2, 3 and 4, said the residents were opposed due to safety issues. He said putting up a barricade to block entrance through the back of the complex would hamper access by emergency personnel, who often frequent the facilities due to the population of elderly residents.

He said most likely the prostitutes and drug dealers are coming to Kalmia #5’s property via Highland Avenue, not Ottawa Road. He said the parking lot was attractive to them because it was secluded.

He reminded the commission that a vacation should be granted only if it was in the best interest of the public. He added that this vacation was not in the best interest of everyone who lives in Kalmia and others who use Ottawa Road to travel through the complex to get to Highland Avenue.

“This has created a divide in the community,” he said.

Huffman said the only contact between the condominium associations was the Dec. 2 meeting “hurriedly called before this meeting after you told them to work it out in October.”

He said the only proposal presented was to split the costs, estimated at $15,000, to install an electric gate, approximately $3,000 to $5,000 per building. He said there was no talk about the cost of maintenance or other costs.

Huffman presented one solution and that was to deed the road to Kalmia’s Recreation Association with shared membership.

Doug Friend, who lives in Kalmia #4, said residents had used the exit on Ottawa Road for years. He said many preferred to use it as opposed to the main entrance.

“We’re always had egress,” he said.

Graham agreed that the road had probably been used since “day one,” but said it has never been designed to provide access to buildings 1 through 4. He said his clients had not designed the complex, but owned the parking lot and the area west of the parking lot.

He said it wasn’t fair for everyone to use property that only Building 5 is responsible to maintain.

“I don’t want to start a real neighborhood war,” Commissioner Karen Seel said after all the homeowners had their say.

A motion by Commissioner Janet Long to approve the vacation died without a second. Commissioner Norm Roche then suggested vacation of only a portion of the area – “the northern triangle” located in the parking lot outside the access road. His concern is for a fire hydrant located within the area.

Commissioner Susan Latvala said she would support the motion but asked that the condominium owners continue talking to see if something could be worked out to keep the area safer and maintain egress.

“And can we communicate to Clearwater police the concerns express by our citizens,” Commissioner Charlie Justice added.

County Administrator Bob LaSala agreed to do so.
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