Winter Haven homeowners face wetlands violations

Winter Haven homeowners face wetlands violations

Posted: Updated:
Sean Leader is angry after receiving a notice he can no longer cut his backyard after doing so for several years. Sean Leader is angry after receiving a notice he can no longer cut his backyard after doing so for several years.
After more than 7 years, Tobi Butcher is being asked to remove her shed. After more than 7 years, Tobi Butcher is being asked to remove her shed.
POLK COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

After years of mowing their backyards, some Winter Haven homeowners have been told they have to stop or else they'll face fines. The notice came from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, stating that mowing and other infractions like pavers and sheds, violate wetlands regulations. The homeowners are fired up at the builder, Adams Homes, who they think fooled them.

After more than 7 years of peaceful living at Island Lakes, Tobi Butcher is not afraid to rock the boat.

“We didn't know this going into it and we bought lake front property when really it's just lake view,” Butcher said, reacting to the news she can no longer maintain her back yard.

Recently a notice came to a row of homeowners out of the blue.

Butcher called 8 On Your Side when she just couldn't make sense of why it's suddenly a problem.

“It was cleared land and we continued to mow the land and then we made modifications with a shed under the approval of our HOA, which is run by Adams Homes,” Butcher said.

The news isn't sitting well down the street either with Sean Leader, either.

The deed restrictions in the permit the developer signed in 2001 clearly spell out the rules and SWFMD expects the builder to pass that on to the buyer.

“When you go back and look at it it does state that you are supposed to maintain it,” Leader said of the paperwork he signed when he bought the house. “However, Adams Homes are the ones that destroyed it initially, it was already destroyed,” Leader stated.

8 On Your Side wanted to talk to someone from Adams Homes in person, but Lakeland General Manager Fred Lintz said it was against policy.

Lintz, who is new on the job, said he couldn’t comment why Adams Homes allegedly mowed back lawns before home sales because he wasn’t there at the time. He did list a few lessons learned from the situation.

For one, Lintz said he didn’t realize it was the HOA’s job to police wetlands regulations and believes doing so would put the builder in a trespassing violation.

But mostly, Lintz wants buyers to understand what they sign.

Tobi Butcher sure wishes she did.

The builder explains it boils down to this: these homeowners got caught breaking the rules after getting away with it for a long time. It all started with one complaint back in March that led SWFMD to investigate. Now SWFMD is demanding the affected homeowners follow the restrictions they signed onto.

SWFMD does offer an option of keeping property “as is,” but it comes at a price of between $15,000-$25,000. The homeowners are demanding some sort of negotiation on this. There is an HOA meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening where homeowners plan to address this with the builder.

Copyright 2014 WFLA.  All rights reserved.

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