article by Tim Woods, photos by Scott Salisbury, BLUFFTON TODAY, March 10, 2008
PLANTERS SERVE AS SEEDS FOR A MESSY DISPUTE
Sun City homeowners wonder why they’ve become the target of a pot-counting scandal.
Is a flower pot just a flower pot or is it an ornament? That is the question at the heart of a feud boiling over between a pair of homeowners and the Sun City Community Association Management. Drive down Sun City Boulevard, past the new softball field and the dog park, take a left on Concession Oak and you'll see the house that's inspired a flurry of pointed letters. Florika and Heinrich Propfe moved from Germany and into No. 46 a little more than a year ago. Heinrich is a 65-year-old retired tax lawyer; Florika is a 64-year-old former stewardess.
Together, they made a modest fortune as owners of a chemical company. They are fervent horticulturists. Their former estate in Germany was filled with greenery of all kinds and plenty of one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted flower pots to house the plants. When they decided to downsize and retire to the Lowcountry, Florika sold or gave away most of the pots. They had never heard of Sun City until passing it en route to see a house on Hilton Head.
They fell in love with the community. As for what they call the insane number of rules, that's another story. The Propfes have applied and received permission from the SCCA for a number of upgrades to their property - a sun porch, a brick walkway and thousands of dollars of landscaping in their back yard. They also received permission for the covenant maximum of five property ornaments - two terra cotta pine cones, 2 cupid sculptures and a fountain. It's when Florika started unpacking and filling her flowerpot collection that the problems began. The letters from the association began in July and have increased in volume and tenacity since.
"For the most part, we absolutely love this place - so much to do and the people are so nice," Florika said. "But the regulations are absolutely out of control. They treat you like a bunch of loonies here. It's unbelievable. This CAM group, they act like the Gestapo." Florika has placed five flower pots in the front yard and another 19 in the back, all filled with flowers. The couple love to see the birds and the butterflies that visit daily.
Yet in its letters to the Propfes, the association classifies the flower pots as ornaments and asks that they be removed. The most recent letters, dated Feb. 14 and 28, threaten a $50 per month fine for noncompliance. Heinrich has written letters in reply, saying that their interpretation of the guidelines do not show any official mention of flower pots or planters as ornaments. "I have replied to each letter. We do not want to be a violator, we just don't think we're breaking the rules," he said.
"We just want a clarification from them. They don't respond to our questions, they just send us the same letter over and over again. We have asked for a meeting with them and they don't respond." CAM vice president and executive director David Meseroll last week returned neither repeated phone calls nor an e-mail from BT. "We probably got them mad because they’re not used to people standing up to them," Florika said. She's been told by neighbors that other neighbors are reporting her, that it's the only logical explanation why CAM is being so vigilant "I just don't understand.”
We live on a lagoon. We're very peaceful. We're just trying to make our house a little more beautiful," she said. "I see certain people looking at our house with big binoculars, so we have our suspicions. We put a flower pot on the side to hide the air-conditioning unit and we got a letter about that. It’s just all so silly." Heinrich said the president of the community’s garden club has been by the house and asked if the house could be part of an upcoming walking tour. He showed me pictures of a house on the island that has far more flower pots with far inferior upkeep to the Propfes' yard.
"They won an award from Habitat for Humanity for being so pro-environment," he said. "We don't want awards and we don't want to break rules. In a community this big, rules are very important. We just want answers. These pots have a purpose - they house flowers that give us air to breathe." The answers aren't coming, only more questions. A Jan. 11 letter from CAM cited the Propfes for adding more flower pots over the last couple months in defiance of the association's requests. Just one problem: the couple say they were in Germany for three months and did not return until mid-January.
"This whole thing is just so bizarre. We walk down the street and see a house with 10 flower pots and none of them have flowers in them. Yet they haven't received any letters," Florika said. "We want them to be consistent with all this. It gets to the point where I wonder if I'm the crazy one or are they? This is definitely driving us crazy." The Propfes say they've consulted an attorney.
They hope a little attention may force a meeting with Meseroll this week. Meanwhile, a March 19 CAM property inspection of Concession Oak homes looms, with more letters and fines likely. Because the Propfes say they’re not budging. "They’ve crossed a line here. I know there's others that feel the same way, that get these letters with little explanation, just a fine," Florika said. "I don't want to be told what can and can't do to make house a little prettier. They make you feel like this is assisted living and that's not what we signed up for."
“I just don’t understand. We live on a lagoon. We’re very peaceful. We’re just trying to make our house a little more beautiful.” Florika Propfe
April 25, 2008
Here's another gem: http://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/story/461428.html