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Controversy erupts at Moorings over beach path closure

Photo: Dawn Morton, Barbara Miller and Colleen Rosenbaum at closed beach access.

Nearly 100 Moorings year-round residents have signed an online petition “demanding a temporary path to the beach” be provided by the homeowners’ association, which closed off the community access to the sea a month and a half ago while two tiki huts adjacent to the entrance ramp are being renovated.

However, the president of the Moorings Property Owners Association said the beach access was closed for safety reasons and will remain closed for at least a couple more weeks – and possibly through the end of summer.

“We’re relying on our contractor – licensed professionals – and they’re telling us it’s not safe to keep the beach open while they’re doing the work,” MPOA president Clint Black said. “They understand what we’re going through, and they’re under instruction to let me know when it’s safe.

“People are complaining, and I understand why, but I can’t ignore their advice,” he added. “The last thing we want is for some kid to get a nail in his foot or to have someone trip and get hurt.”

Beach access at The Moorings has been shut down since May 21, and Black initially informed homeowners in an email blast that the project might not be completed until the end of September – a timeframe that prompted some to accuse him and the rest of the MPOA’s board of having an “apparent disregard for the year-round residents.”

Some homeowners were especially angered by the “No Trespassing” signs, posted at the entrances to the community’s beach, which contained the warning: “This is a designated construction site, and anyone who trespasses on this property commits a felony.”

More than one disgruntled resident, confronted with such strong wording, called the signs an “arrogant threat.”

Other homeowners complained that closing the beach has taken a financial toll, because they rented their places to summer vacationers who were expecting beach access.

“I advertise that my place is close enough to the beach that they can walk there,” said Colleen Rosenbaum, who owns a home in the Oceanside neighborhood and claims she didn’t know the beach was closed until one of her renters told her. “Then they find out there’s no beach access and they’re upset.

“I’ve had guests tell me, ‘I wouldn’t have come if I had known the beach was closed,’ so I’ve had to offer refunds,” she added. “I’ve already refunded more than $500, and I’ve got more renters coming.

“The summer is the second-busiest time of year here.”

The exasperated year-round residents responded first with a petition, which had garnered 97 signatures as of Sunday, then contacted Vero Beach 32963 in hopes that publicizing their situation might pressure Black and the MPOA board to speed up the process and, in the meantime, provide alternative access to the beach.

Bill Morton, president of The Moorings’ Sea Mist Court Property Owners Association, said he was out of town when the renovation project began, then “walked into a hornet’s nest” upon his return. (Black is the head of the umbrella HOA that covers the entire 1,100-home Moorings community, but individual neighborhoods/complexes such as Sea Mist Court have their own associations, as well.)

“I came back to find we couldn’t go to the beach, people getting threatened with felony arrests and a petition going around,” Morton said. “People kept calling me, asking what we can do. A lot of people are unhappy.”

Morton, who owned 50 percent of two housing/manufacturing companies and has an extensive construction background, believes the entire controversy could have been avoided.

He said the renovation project should not have taken more than a month to complete.

“There’s no electricity, no plumbing, no insulation, no walls,” Morton said. “There are pilings, a roof and a floor. The job should’ve taken three or four weeks.”

He also said it should not have been difficult to provide an alternate entrance to the beach while the tiki huts were being refurbished.

“We’re talking about a large piece of property – more than an acre – and the tiki huts take up only a small part,” Morton said. “There was no reason to shut down the entire beach.”

He then added: “This whole thing is pretty ridiculous and very unfortunate.”

Morton said he has corresponded with Black several times through emails and texts, outlining “four or five different ways” he could provide alternate access to the beach. Each time, though, his suggestions were dismissed.

He said Black’s responses have been “less than constructive” and sent an unmistakable message that Morton’s input wasn’t welcome or appreciated.

“Clint Black is acting dictatorial,” Morton said.

Longtime Moorings resident Barbara Miller agreed, saying Black unilaterally decided – without a vote by the board – to close the beach this summer.

Miller, who has lived at The Moorings since 1983, said she couldn’t remember the beach being closed for such a long period of time, adding, “I know it doesn’t sound like much of a hardship to some people, but we pay a lot of money to live here.”

She said she talked to Black and suggested that the project be done from September to November, “after the kids are back in school.”

Black’s response?

“Right in the heart of hurricane season?” he said, adding “the board did discuss when was the best time to do this. The truth is, there is no good time to do it.”

There is a bad time, however.

“You think it’s better to do it in February?” Black said. “I’m a year-round resident, too, but can you imagine the uproar there’d be if we did this in February or March – closed the beach at the height of the season, when everyone is here?

“When you live on the beach, things eventually need to be repaired,” he added. “This had to be done at some point, and no matter when we did it, people were going to be inconvenienced.”

Black did concede the “No Trespassing” signs threatening felony arrests were “pretty heavy duty,” but he said that they were posted by the contractor, Farrow Construction Corp., and not by The Moorings association.

He also addressed complaints from residents who contend that a larger, more ambitious work crew could have finished the job sooner.

“I’ve heard from people who say they’ve seen only two guys on the job and they were just sitting around, not doing anything, but maybe they were waiting for materials,” Black said.

“All I know is that we hired a highly regarded local contractor. I’m not going to tell them how to do their job.”

Besides, Black sent out another email blast two weeks ago, when he informed homeowners that, barring severe weather, the tiki-hut renovations could be completed and the beach reopened by the end of July.

“We’re almost to the goal line,” Black said.

“If we can finish by the end of the month, that’s a lot sooner than the worst-case scenario, which is what I included when I sent out that first email.

“I guess I could’ve been optimistic and said it would be done by the middle of June, but I’d rather be realistic – and even conservative – so people don’t get upset if it takes longer than we expect.”