For many residential property owners, homeowners’ associations are like a tetanus shot required after stepping on a nail. They serve a purpose, but can sting nonetheless.
Hall County resident Ralph Isabella is finding this out firsthand.
HOA’s often have strict guidelines that regulate everything from the length of grass to the color of each home to the design of mailboxes.
Isabella was cleaning out his garage in the Copper Springs neighborhood in Oakwood one day recently and squeezed his three cars onto the driveway. And that fateful mistake has launched a war of words and, possibly, more.
Isabella was informed that his driveway was too big and that the HOA would have someone tear it up to reduce its size, he said.
However, Isabella insists he was given permission by the HOA about six years ago to expand it.
“We really have a two-car driveway with extra room to walk around,” Isabella said. “However, we sold our town car and have smaller cars, and so we can now fit three cars.”
Susan Farrow, Copper Springs community association manager, laid out the HOA’s position in an email correspondence with Isabella.
“I am not sure why this is an issue since you are not allowed to park three cars in the driveway and the land actually belongs to the association,” she said. “Removing the extra spaces from these driveways will ensure everyone is following the established parking rules.”
Bobb Brown, a former member of the HOA board, said he recalls giving Isabella permission to construct the driveway as it now stands.
Brown said the HOA architectural committee used to distribute a routine form to homeowners who requested any changes to their property that requires approval.
But the form did not ask for specific dimensions of the driveway. That was only added later.
“We have a huge parking problem here,” Brown said. “The developer made three- to five-bedroom homes with a one-car garage and a one-car driveway.”
Brown said several residents received approval to make driveways doublewide, including his own.
Though he acknowledges that Isabella’s driveway is wider than customary, Brown believes the dispute is “more personal than anything else” and has no impact on property values.
“So this isn’t really a big thing about the driveway,” Brown added. “Other than that, the whole situation is a whoop dee doo. It doesn’t harm anybody.”
Farrow disputes that Isabella received proper approval.
“I have not had any owners that could produce a document stating they were approved for three parking spaces,” she said in another email. “So, what you have told the city was false, unless you have a document that states otherwise.”
Gainesville Planning Manager Matt Tate, in an email correspondence with Farrow, said the city’s only concern is that existing stormwater facilities could be negatively impacted if everyone in Copper Springs started constructing a third parking pad.
“I told (Isabella) that this did not meet the zoning standards for the Copper Springs development,” Tate said. “I told him that I provided a letter for the HOA that addressed this. However, the driveways and roads are all privately maintained and the issue should be handled through the HOA.”
Farrow piggybacked on this explantation in another email to Isabella.
“The association has a duty to protect the property and financial resources of the community,” she said, addressing Tate’s concerns, adding that it is the responsibility of each homeowner to ensure all changes meet city zoning ordinances. “ … That is why the association has made the decision to remove the three car driveways because it is not possible for everyone to have one. It is also their responsibility to treat owners as fairly and equitably as possible.”
Isabella has argued that he should be grandfathered in, and told The Times that he has considered meeting with a lawyer to discuss the issue.
“I have witnesses from (the) board that was on when we put (the) drive in that will testify on my behalf. so you see where this is going to go,” Isabella said in one email to Farrow.