Bella Collina Property Owners, in Lawsuit, Allege Racketeering
One of Central Florida’s most troubled home developments, the upscale Bella Collina country-club near Clermont, was hit with a planned class action lawsuit by people who bought lots there until the development went dormant at the fantastic Recession.
The lawsuit alleges that the owners behind the Bella Collina company, including Palm Beach businessman Dwight Schar, actively sought to ruin land values so as to drive out bunch owners in order that they can repurchase the whole project at super-low prices.
Schar and his regional business partner, Randall Greene, aren’t commenting. A company backed by Schar called DCS purchased Bella Collina a lot, the Nick Faldo-designed golf program and also the $40 million clubhouse in 2012 for only $10 million.
They’d announced new sales would begin again in 2014, also announced the began building on almost 30 new homes in 2016, but there’s been little new structure visible on satellite photos.
The lawsuit was filed by Orlando attorney Tim McCullough on behalf of lot owners James and Virginia Shelton, Brad and Lana Heckenberg, Bart and Kathryn Sutherin and two others.
They argue that the developers should have turned the Property Owners Association over to the individual owners more than 10 years ago.
"The Defendants illegally usurped control of the POA. The POA, without member authorization, then filed 400 fraudulent lawsuits for the collection of invalid special assessments, which coerced lot owners to surrender their lots," the lawsuit says.
A response from the developers filed in court says it's all just sour grapes.
"Many had enjoyed their property for years without paying club or POA dues. They reacted poorly when the POA pursued legal remedies to require the owners to pay their debts," the developers' attorneys at Shutts & Bowen wrote.
McCullough said there are about 100 individual lot owners now, out of about 800 lots.
"There are issues that have been raised in the state court, but the state court lawsuits were not a class action," McCollough said. "Some of these lot owners are simply afraid to open their mouth. They can be slapped with a $100,000 penalty, which I think is illegal, if they don't follow the illegal deals in the settlement agreements some people signed."