Abbey Court HOA Showdown

Mark Chilton's picture

Tonight I went to the Abbey Court HOA meeting about the Human Rights Center.  Here's the short version of what happened…

I suppose you've all heard about how the Abbey Court Homeowners' Association (HOA) is giving the Abbey Court Human Rights Center (HRC) the boot. The Human Rights Center is a great community center providing many critical human services within Abbey Court, including mentoring, after school care, tutoring etc.  In short, the HOA is arguing that the HRC is in violation of the HOA rules by using their unit for non-residential purposes and kicking them out, under threat of a $300/day fine.

The HOA meeting was tonight at 6pm in Raleigh and was closed to the public, however this afternoon it occurred to me that the non-profit organization I work for owns one of the units at Abbey Court, so I went to the meeting to represent our organization's miniscule rights—and to record the meeting.

Unfortunately there was a car wreck on I-40 (and I got lost to boot), so I arrived a bit late, but still in time for the essential part of the meeting. The Board of Directors (3 people) were seated at a table at the front and in the audience were the HOA's attorney Tina, the owner of 2/3 of Abbey Court Ken Lucas, the husband of one of the board members, Prof Judith Blau (founder of the HRC) and James Farrar (President of the HRC). I pulled out my Flip Video camera and began recording the meeting.

The soft-spoken Dr. Blau was calmly but passionately making her case for the importance of the HRC. The board was listening, but not particularly moved. Dr. Blau acknowledged that the HRC would move in response to the HOA's action, but begged for a 5-month extension to allow time to find a new location for the HRC outside Abbey Court.

After a few minutes the husband of Board Member C noticed me recording the meeting and said in a loud voice: "Are you recording this?" I said "yes." The attorney asked me to turn the camera off, but I refused—stating that I thought it was important to have a record of the proceedings. Suddenly several of them wheeled on me, challenging my right to be in the meeting but I parried, referencing my role representing the owner of one unit at Abbey Court.

The meeting took several twists and turns. President of the Board D, who lives in Chapel Hill, recognized me and acknowledged my right to be at the meeting. He tried to focus the Board on the question of when exactly the HRC would leave Abbey Court. Dr. Blau pleaded again for time to transition out, but Board Member C and her husband were adamant that the HRC's kids activities were too great a source of potential liability.

I jumped in pointing out how the poor management/maintenance of Abbey Court is a greater liability than any of the HRC's work and that the HRC is probably the single most positive force going at Abbey Court. I directly addressed several other concerns about the way the property is run and questioned whether it is fair (to the individuals and organizations who all-told own a third of Abbey Court) that Ken Lucas as majority owner effectively contracts with himself (on our dime) to manage the property. I pointed out how only two days ago there was a serious safety incident that the Town of Carrboro had had to get involved with (having to do with ongoing maintenance issues), and some of the Board Members expressed surprise about this. Their attorney updated them on the situation.

After a lot of discussion about the overall condition of Abbey Court, the management issues, and a good bit of bickering between members of the Board about certain board dynamics problems, the Board returned to the issue at hand, debating whether to give the HRC 60 days or 90 days to get out. I piped up to encourage the Board to be flexible and to give them at least 90 days to find other quarters. After a bit more bickering amongst themselves about some unrelated issues (unrelated to the HRC, that is), President D moved to give the HRC 90 days and Board Member B seconded the motion. The Board voted 2-1, with Board Member C voting no. The Board adjourned after having met for about 45 minutes total. So upshot: No fines if the HRC is out by March 1, 2012.

After the meeting, we all filed out into the hallway and Ken Lucas, Attorney Tina and I discussed a number of the issues I had raised. Although we still disagree about whether the HRC should have been allowed to stay, Ken and I had a reasonably cordial discussion about maintenance issues and crime problems at Abbey Court and we agreed to stay in touch.

While it would have been more satisfying to give Ken and the HOA Board a more frank piece of my mind about the matter, I could see from the start that there was no persuading them to let the HRC stay. I was concerned that telling them off good and proper might cause them to give the HRC zero days to come into compliance. So through most of the meeting I tried to focus primarily on getting as much time as possible to find another location for the HRC. Ninety days is probably the best result we could have hoped for given that their minds were basically closed on the matter and given that the law is almost entirely on their side.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Ninety days is a big break (as is avoiding the fine!), but it's not really a lot of time to find a new home for the HRC. Stay tuned.

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13 Comments

Geoff Gilson's picture

Thank You ...

... for taking the time, and doing what all progressives should do best - speaking up for those unable to speak for themselves.And thank you also for attempting to begin a conversation with Ken Lucas (CEO of Tar Heel Companies - his Dad James Lucas founded the company).It matters not that he didn't seem to be willing to engage. I learned a long time ago, if you talk to folks, they will like you; if they like you, they may meet you half way.The bottom line is this: whatever else may or may not happen to bring pressure, at the end of the day, it is Tar Heel Companies who will let HRC stay longer, or not. No-one else. They are the target audience. No-one else.

Thank you!

That was great action and leadership. Thanks Mark!  The Occupy CH-C folks are planning a march leaving from the Really Really Free Market on Saturday at 3:30 pm.  This will be a great opportunity for all to come together as a community and in solidarity with the Abbey Court community.

Geoff Gilson's picture

Sorry

Sammy, I have been staying in touch with a number of the parties concerned, including some from OCHC. I won't be able to make the march. I'll be earning the money to pay the bills! But I wish you well.The most important thing at the moment is to let as many people as possible in the community know what Tar Heel Companies/HOA are doing. And then letting THC/HOA know that the community doesn't like it. Various ways of doing that are to be found elewhere on OP.After that, there will need to be a deal of logistic work on several levels to rescue or maintain as much as possible of HRC's role with respect to Abbey Court. I will help as much as I can. And I will stay in touch to that end.

"non-residential purposes"?

Just what do these folks have to complain about? What is so unacceptable in all the good work that the HRC has been doing for years? And now they wanted them to leave pronto?

There is some secret motivation here, and the Abbey Court "leadership" should explain themselves in public. 

 

Graig Meyer's picture

A real loss

The HRC is an amazing resource. It's almost entirely volunteer run and does so on a shoestring. And yet it has probably done more to improve the quality of life in Abbey Court than anything the management has ever done. This is a real shame. 

my thoughts

 I actually own my condo and  live at Abbey Court in the building E that the HRC is running out of....although I don't have any objections per se about the center and its goals, there are issues that to the outside may not seem to matter. There are valid reasons for keeping residential and non-residential uses seperate. The breezeways are sometimes hard to naviagate (kids on the stairs, games being played there) and at times banana peels,orange peels left on my landing...I know this may seem like small potaotes compared to the plight of the workers and all, but that means we should look at both sides. I should just keep quiet as a Homeowner and taxpayer... I purchased my condo back in 1999 and at that time they told me it was for residential use only.  So while I do understand what is going on, there are 2 sides....

Geoff Gilson's picture

Understood

You are clearly someone who cares. But you have issues, too. And those are equally valid in all of our efforts, resident and larger community, in improving the quality of life for all at Abbey Court and in the surrounding area. Thank you for speaking up.I'm no-one special. But I am making an effort in the coming weeks to understand more of the issues at stake here. If you would like to correspond more, in absolute privacy and confidentiality, please feel free to write to me, under those conditions, at: geoffgilson@hotmail.com.