Beaufort News

Spending, dredging and elections cause fights in island gated communities

Elections, spending and dredging have led to infighting and resignations in three gated communities on Hilton Head Island, pitting residents against property owners associations.

A cost overrun for the renovation of the Wexford Plantation Golf Course led to the resignation of that gated community's general manager, director of golf and the project manager.

Some Palmetto Dunes condo owners, calling themselves "Community VOICE," accuse their community's board of directors of irresponsible spending and lack of financial disclosure and accountability.

And a group of Sea Pines residents has formed in response to the way its community's leaders have handled dredging plans.

WEXFORD

A letter to property owners this month from Susan Minter, president of the Wexford board of directors, said three resignations followed an investigation of a board-approved oversight committee. The investigation came after the gated community's management told the board July 22 that a "significant golf course overrun" was inevitable, the letter said.

The club closed the golf course for renovations in April with plans to reopen in October as an Arnold Palmer Signature Course, according to the community's website.

After the committees' report was presented Sept. 1, the board voted to accept the resignations of general manager Jim VanBuren, project manager Richard Thompson and director of golf Stephen Johnson. The board is also considering hiring an outside firm to "augment the work done" by the committee, Minter wrote.

Minter, VanBuren, Johnson and members of the oversight committee could not be reached for comment last week.

PALMETTO DUNES

Palmetto Dunes resident Donald Caudill claims members of the property owners association's board have refused to share financial details on certain projects.

He said Community VOICE has requested but never received details about how $320,000 was spent to rebuild the north and south guard stations. It also asked the board to perform a cost-benefit study of its $1 million purchase of a town fire station near the entrance to Palmetto Dunes and plans to renovate it for office space.

Sharon Cheney, board president of the property owners association, said the case for purchasing the fire station was made in a June report posted on the community's website, which includes monthly financial statements. The purchase will reduce long-term costs, as space will no longer have to be leased, and it will improve efficiency by consolidating operations into one building, according to the report.

As for the guard stations, the north gate was hit by a car and condemned by the town, and the south gate is 30 years old and no longer complies with building codes and safety requirements, said general manager Bob Sharp.

Along with spending and disclosure concerns, Community VOICE members also say proposed bylaw changes give the president too much influence, and directors have made it more difficult for owners to elect board candidates other than those they nominate.

Directors Dick Waterman and Frank Aretz, whose terms expire in October, say they want to stay on the board but were not nominated, so they had to gather signatures to become petition candidates. They say they were snubbed after they questioned the fairness of the proposed bylaw changes.

Board members respond that those nominated will bring new ideas and perspective. Cheney contends the proposed changes, to be voted on Oct. 8, are not significant and follow what has been practiced for years.

SEA PINES

Sea Pines United Residents formed after the POA board and Community Services Associates, which maintains Sea Pines' common property, endorsed legislation to create a special tax district within the community to pay for dredging. Both Sea Pines boards withdrew their support following an outcry from owners, and the legislation was dropped.

Sea Pines United seeks to elect new leadership and restrict CSA's role in the community's affairs, according to its website.

"Currently, the two boards appear to be promoting the interests of the commercial entities in Sea Pines at the expense of the residential property owners," the website says.

Town officials and Beaufort County legislators have said the bill was an honest effort by Sea Pines leaders to find funding options for the community's dredging woes.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

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