By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Aug. 17, 2023) Ocean Pines resident Katie Conforti received a letter dated May 10 from the Ocean Pines Association with a $2,900 bill for a tree removed from her property.
A month later, her association voting rights and access to amenities were suspended until she paid the bill, which she believed was not just excessive but extreme.
This month, all is relatively well. Conforti paid $900 for the tree removal and was in the process of having her membership privileges restored.
Although the disparity between the original and final bill has not been clarified, the episode began on March 30, according to the May 10 letter.
“On March 30, 2023, a contractor was dispatched to the property noted above to remove a dangerous tree which was a violation of the Declaration of Restrictions,” the letter said. “You were given prior notice of this and ample time to correct it. Your failure to act as requested results in this office taking the necessary action to bring your property into compliance.”
This was not the first time OPA tried to contact Conforti about the tree issue. The OPA provided this paper with copies of letters to her dated Aug. 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023.
The price dispute had roots well before that, Conforti said, recalling that it was in April 2022 when, wanting to deal with the tree on her own, asked for an estimate from a service removing trees in a neighbor’s yard.
This week, Scot Elliot of Atlantic Stone said he estimated at that time that it would cost about $700 to remove the tree. For whatever reason, however, Conforti chose not to act. A little more than a year later, the OPA decided it needed to step in.
Conforti is one of many residents with a CPI violation. As of June 30, there were 221 CPI violations, three for dangerous trees.
CPI stands for Compliance, Permit and Inspections. According to the OPA website, the objective of the CPI Department is “to preserve the natural beauty and setting of Ocean Pines and to prevent indiscriminate clearing of property, removal of trees, and earth moving.” It also manages the location and configuration of structures and architectural design.
According to an email, dated July 13, 2023, sent to Conforti from Ocean Pines, “Per item 2 of Resolution M-04, it gives the Association the right to enter upon lots to maintain them. As this was a safety issue, the letters you received were a courtesy, and the tree could have been removed without prior notice to you.”
Conforti attended the July board meeting and spoke about her situation during public comment. At that time, General Manager John Viola said he would meet with her on the topic. On Aug. 14, the meeting occurred. Conforti said she agreed to pay $900 for the tree removal.
OPA has lifted the sanctions they placed on Conforti, so she now has access to the amenities. She said Viola encouraged her to contact the Election Committee to see if they could provide her with a ballot to vote during this election cycle.
Tree Violation Process:
- 1. Inspector reviews dangerous tree, takes pictures, and initiates violation for the tree. Letter is sent both certified and regular mail to the homeowner.
- Letter specifically states the re-inspection date, and the notation that if not corrected by the reinspection date that a contractor will be hired to remedy the situation and the cost of the service plus and OPA $100 administrative fee will be billed to the homeowner.
- Occasionally, a homeowner will contact CPI asking for an extension to the violation to give them ample time to remove the tree. CPI will grant the extension.
- If the homeowner does not respond regarding the violation notice, a follow-up inspection is completed to review if the tree has been removed by the homeowner or if the tree needs to be removed by the OPA contractor. If an OPA contractor is selected, the contractor is contacted to provide a quote to remove the tree.
- The tree is removed by the OPA contractor and a bill letter is sent to homeowner stating that they have 30 days to pay the bill, or the charge will be added to their assessment.
- After 30 days if CPI does not receive the payment, a copy of the bill letter is sent to the assessment office to add the charge to the property assessment.