Homeowners Stage Rebellion Against Developer
In the Boston Tea Party of neighborhood disputes, the residents of Riverside Harbor have ousted the leaders of their homeowners association, including the subdivision’s developer.
About 120 residents staged their insurrection during a meeting in the Post Falls National Guard Armory late Thursday.
“The Boston Tea Party was about taxes without representation,” said resident Ralph Harris, his amplified voice ricocheting off the walls of the cavernous hall. “That’s what this is about.”
The meeting was the culmination of continuing conflicts between more than 300 homeowners and Riverside’s developer, Dennis Swartout of Spokane.
Riverside Harbor was marketed as an upscale, exclusive subdivision controlled by the homeowners. But when people moved in, they found that promises weren’t being kept by the developer and association rules were changed without their input, residents said.
Buyers in Riverside Harbor “thought they were coming to salvation,” resident John Haner said. “We just want our voice to be heard.”
The Swartout-controlled board did not call Thursday’s meeting or approve of it. Whether the takeover votes are binding will be decided by the courts.
Swartout has run the homeowners’ association for too long, residents say. Most recently, the association’s board has consisted of Swartout’s son, Ben Swartout, builder Kim Riley and Anne Beutler, the wife of the development company’s marketing agent.
Those board members were absent from Thursday’s meeting. Swartout sent a letter to residents on Oct. 25 warning them that their meeting was illegal.
The homeowners unofficial committee - which Harris jokingly referred to as “that rat’s nest of Californians” in reference to a past insult from Swartout - hired an attorney several weeks ago.
The attorney will ask a judge to rule that the meeting followed the association’s by-laws and is therefore legitimate.
Armed with Robert’s Rules of Order, a videocamera, tape recorder and secretary, Harris cautioned the gathering that everything must be done in a proper manner.
“These proceedings may be used in a court of law,” he said.
Unknown to Harris, in the audience was a burly man in a flannel shirt and steel-shanked boots who was wired, too.
The miniature microphone protruding from his lapel was connected to a small tape recorder in the back pocket of his blue jeans.
“The PA system was so bad, I’ll be surprised if I got anything,” Steve Reed said toward the end of the meeting. By that time, he had ripped off his “visitor” name tag.
Swartout asked Reed to come and record the meeting on his behalf, Reed said. Swartout also gave Reed his proxy vote.
It did little good.
The rebel homeowners used their own proxies and those of residents who did not attend the meeting to make sure they had the two-thirds majority needed to recall the board.
The results of the first vote was 312 to 1 in favor.
“Yes!” cheered homeowner Patti O’Reilly, her arms pumping in the air.
The homeowners ignored 79 proxies submitted in a letter by Swartout, some for lots he didn’t even own and at least one that has since become an access road.
Swartout, who lives in Spokane, did not return phone calls Friday.
One of Swartout’s arguments against holding the special meeting was the cost. He quoted expenses of $2,100, but the residents did it for about $600.
“I think he got out-muscled by a bunch of professionals,” said Carla Colburn, a marketing agent and Riverside Harbor resident. The new board members are doctors and business people who led the insurrection.