Something unseemly has landed in the mailboxes of some of the mansions built in Bella Collina, the boom-to-bust luxury development in Lake County where hundreds of planned estate homes have never materialized.
In addition to that handful of homeowners, dozens of home-site investors and other property owners, including SunTrust Bank, now face the first installment in what is likely the largest tab for unpaid homeowner-association and club fees in the region, if not the entire state.
A company led by Washington Redskins co-owner Dwight C. Schar bought Bella Collina from beleaguered real-estate developer Bobby Ginn in June. Now Schar’s group has begun selectively issuing collection notices to individual property owners for back payments that total as much as $109,000 per lot, which in some cases exceeds the lot’s current market value.
It says it needs the money to reinvigorate and maintain the stalled community, originally envisioned as a rival to Orange County’s Isleworth, the most-exclusive community in Central Florida.
Bella Collina’s property owners, especially those living there, bridle at the new owner’s attempt to collect dues, fees and deposits dating back as much as six years. They object to being charged for promised amenities never built, including the resort-style pool, Har-Trutennis courts, nature trails, fitness facility and equestrian center.
Bella Collina, on the western shore of Lake Apopka just south of Montverde, looks today much as it did when the initial show homes were built about six years ago, with vast stretches of landscaped golf fairways and common areas surrounded by empty residential lots and the occasional Mediterranean-style estate.
Only about 40 houses have been built in the 1,800-acre community, which was designed to accommodate almost 900 homes; an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse; and other high-end facilities. Many of the investors who bought million-dollar lots there during the homebuying frenzy have since filed lawsuits complaining that Ginn Development Co. artificially inflated prices.
“Bella Collina has been, for the last few years since it opened, a little bit of the Wild West,” said Randall Greene, who helped manage the acquisition for Schar’s DCS Investment Holdings.
“We have families living here and paying their dues, and then we have the others — the majority — large-scale owners ranging from very sophisticated wealthy investors to very sophisticated banks, that are in default on pretty much everything.”
$895,000 — to $8,800
At the bend of a residential street virtually devoid of houses, Bella Collina residents Brad and Lana Heckenberg enjoy an unobstructed view of a small lake from the lanai of their 4,300-square-foot home. Last year, the retirees bought the lot next door to their house from Wells Fargo & Co. for just $8,800.
Five years earlier, the same lot had been sold to investors for $895,000.
Heckenberg acknowledges he got a great deal. But he said he is not getting much value from the $205 a month he pays for his mandatory club membership. He said he would like to see the club reopen its restaurant on a regular basis, rather than just for special events.
“I just want them to open the club,” Heckenberg said. “I want to go to dinner there.”
Greene said that, even though the club’s fine-dining restaurant is not always open, residents can enjoy pastas and other fare at the 19th Hole, a casual-dining restaurant and bar. Just last week, he said, he enjoyed dinner there, with a salted-caramel gelato for dessert.
Through the years, he noted, Bella Collina’s club membership has dropped from $600 a month to $205 a month. Quarterly community-association fees run about $600.
Late-fee rate: 18%
Schar, a part-time resident of Palm Beach and part-owner of the NFL’s Redskins, earned his wealth founding and overseeing NVR Inc., one of the country’s largest homebuilders. But when his DCS Capital Investments purchased Bella Collina’s clubhouse, golf course, 50 lots and some adjacent property from Ginn Development in June for $10 million, the West Palm Beach company was buying more than property.
It also acquired an estimated $8 million to $10 million in debts owed to Ginn by Bella Collina’s lot owners and homeowners, including overdue club fees, community-association dues — and the mandatory, $40,000 club-membership deposit required of each owner.
With a late-fee interest rate of 18 percent, the default debt on the deposits has risen quickly