SCENES FROM AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT: Homeowners Fight, Berate, Threaten As Board Tells Them To Grow Up.
BY: ANDREW COLTON | Editor and Publisher
DELRAY BEACH, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) (Copyright © 2021 MetroDesk Media, LLC) — In the gated West Delray Beach community of Seven Bridges, homeowners need a permit for a swing set, but not a set of swingers.
It’s a word choice in the governing documents that goes to the very heart of an ongoing battle in the HOA of 701 high priced homes. The battle is so intense — with three board members resigning in the past two weeks — that the remaining members sent an extraordinary letter to homeowners on Monday.
The letter makes an impassioned plea for homeowners to act like adults, to stop berating community volunteers, and to cease harassing employees of the community’s restaurant — Casa D’Angelo.
No more than four years old, Seven Bridges has gone through multiple boards, with members constantly resigning amid physical threats and verbal assaults made by homeowners in person and on social media.
True to form, an unofficial Facebook Seven Bridges group popped up as the community letter was sent. One of the posts seems to support harassing and bullying behavior, with the author writing:
”The bullying and rest come with the job they undertook. Everyone who ran knew that.”
There are apparently two recall efforts underway to yet again replace the Seven Bridges board.
The issue: what Seven Bridges is supposed to be. A family friendly community, a “Party Bus” community with swingers, drugs, loud music and disrespect, or a community of seniors focused on “pickle ball.” There’s also the criminal crowd. At least two homeowners are under federal indictment while a third, whose home was raided by the FBI last year, relocated and filed for bankruptcy, according to records obtained by BocaNewsNow.com.
The following is based on interviews with homeowners and several people connected to management of the community. In every case, those speaking with BocaNewsNow.com feared physical retribution, verbal assaults, or attacks on their personal businesses. They have asked for — and been granted — anonymity.
SWINGERS, SENIORS, STABILITY
A group of swingers — and we don’t mean people who enjoy specific playground equipment — is said to be behind one of the recall efforts, unhappy that the current Seven Bridges board is too focused on stability and financial responsibility. They want what some describe as a “Carnival Cruise Line” atmosphere — a community focused on parties, “ladies’ nights” at the club house, and a restaurant with wide alcohol choices and bar bites. They’ve created unofficial Facebook and other social media groups using the Seven Bridges name. At least some of the swingers involved are said to have young children. Seven Bridges is largely a community of young families.
A group of senior citizens is also said to be behind a recall effort. Ironically, that group accuses the current board of being too party focused, while not focusing enough on stability and financial responsibility. The group of seniors is what some call the “Valencia” Crowd, referring to the 55+ communities that line Lyons Road.
Representatives from both groups did not respond to a request for comment from BocaNewsNow.com. They are welcome to respond.
As swingers and seniors apparently go door to door seeking signatures for a recall, the remaining members of the Seven Bridges Board sent a strongly worded letter to homeowners on Monday. Justin Hertzberg — an attorney, and Aliya Unger — a business woman, asked homeowners to grow up.
“Over the past 2 weeks, 3 board members have resigned,” wrote Hertzberg and Unger. “Each had their own reasons for doing so. We can only speak from experience that this job is beyond thankless. It subjects board members to bullying, threats and harassment on a daily basis. The treatment we receive from some members of the community is truly disgusting. Shameful. It has to stop. Over the very short history of Seven Bridges, we’ve had several prior board members resign, several chose not to seek reelection and now 3 board members from our current board have resigned. If we cannot act with respect and civility to our neighbors who have stepped up to do a job that 693 homeowners didn’t want, then this community will have a revolving door of board members, no identity and no consistency in delivering the amenities which attracted us here in the first place.”
HOMEOWNERS BELIEVED GL HOMES MARKETING
The problem, says an area real estate professional, is that homeowners truly believed that they were moving to a Boca Raton or Delray Beach country club that didn’t have country club dues. That attracted a unique mix of homeowners with limited ability to understand finances.
“You have these rough and tumble New Jersey and Long Island people right out of Billy Joel’s song ‘Big Shot,” said the professional. “That’s many of these people. They really thought they were getting a country club lifestyle for $800 in quarterly fees. That shows you their mentality. You don’t get anything in South Florida for $800 a quarter.”
GL Homes, which built and marketed Seven Bridges and several other related communities on Lyons Road, subsidized HOA dues while the community was being built, resulting in artificially low fees. But once GL was done building, and the HOA was formed, reality set in and yearly dues rose to roughly $2400 a quarter. It’s significantly less than Boca Raton and Delray Beach country clubs, which routinely assess a mandatory initiation fee of $100,000, and then require high priced club memberships. GL Homes is not accused of wrongdoing.
“There is no country club at Seven Bridges” said a homeowner. “There’s a pool. There’s a restaurant. There’s a club house. That’s it. Anyone who thought they were getting anything more was delusional when they executed a sales agreement.”
“ABHORRENT BEHAVIOR BY SEVERAL RESIDENTS.”
The restaurant itself has been the cause of community angst, and a reason board members have been under fire. The original catering company hired by GL to run what was known as “Prime 7” was dismissed several years ago amidst accusations of impropriety. Criminal charges were never filed. But that caterer forged relationships with homeowners, some who were accused of using those relationships to personally profit from HOA resources.
A replacement catering company was accused of poor service — largely by those who wanted the first company back. And the third caterer — famed restauranteur Angelo Elia, who brought his “Casa D’Angelo” brand to Seven Bridges — has had workers harassed and threatened, again by homeowners who are loyal to the first catering company. Among the complaints: Angelo Elia, a preeminent Italian Chef, is “too Italian.” His company is now serving nachos at Seven Bridges and is considering departing the venue.
“In addition to the financial challenges faced by the restaurant, they have had to endure the utter disrespect some residents have exhibited toward their staff,” wrote Hertzberg and Unger. “It is easy to understand why they are considering whether to leave. There have been far too many instances where many of you would be shocked at the treatment some of your fellow neighbors have directed at Casa D’Angelo employees. From suggesting that they find new jobs because we’ll be closing the restaurant, to completely offensive, vulgar language directed at staff, to the alleged stalking employees, to verbal abuse… it’s an ugly picture and certainly not representative of how we as a community want to be viewed. We’re at a point where waitstaff have been quitting on the spot based on some abhorrent behavior by several residents.”
A woman allegedly punched another woman in Casa D’Angelo at Seven Bridges during a 2021 Mothers’ Day Brunch. No charges were filed. But that, according to multiple sources, made restaurant staffers realize that the Casa D’Angelo brand was “too good” for the community. Angelo Elia is considered a “celebrity chef” with high end restaurants in South Florida and Paradise Island.
“You wouldn’t believe this stuff actually happens unless you knew it actually happens,” said someone familiar with the incidents. “Seven Bridges has managed to mix some of the best of the best with the worst of the worst. It’s like ‘Real Housewives,’ but it’s completely real and unscripted.”
Seven Bridges is also the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by a Christian homeowner who claimed a previous board discriminated against her for not being Jewish. One of the claims in the lawsuit: a homeowner, who is Jewish, told the Christian woman in a recorded call to “move to a Klan community.” That suit continues.
Trying to calm the community, the current Board of Directors contracted Sunshine States security — a respected security company used by the Boca Raton JCC, and largely staffed by licensed law enforcement personnel. Officers are wearing body cams to record and document poor behavior. That too has led to threats, as have discussions over several years of finalizing a request for PBSO to have authority to patrol and issue tickets within the private community.
“You legitimately have a board of directors that is trying to bring law and order to a place where that shouldn’t even be an issue,” said a homeowner not currently involved with management but aware of the background, “and you have people who are truly campaigning against it. Most places want the police. Most places want security and law or rule enforcement. Not Seven Bridges. It’s as if some homeowners are afraid of the police. Why would that be?”
“This community is in constant turmoil and never gives its leaders time to operate without criticism and harassment,” wrote Hertzberg and Unger. “Give the people who stepped up and earned your vote in the first place an opportunity to get a feel for the role, the demands of the job and to execute on the visions they espoused in candidacy. Our knee jerk reactions to board votes are counterproductive to the advancement of our own community. Give our boards, current and future, an opportunity to lead.”
While swingers and seniors stage a recall, and what’s called a “vocal minority” posts repeatedly to social media, those connected to management of the community say that constant complaints will be ignored while threats and harassment will not be tolerated.
Local authorities tell BocaNewsNow.com that while they have not been contacted directly by Seven Bridges management, board members or other volunteers, that threats against anyone — for any reason — are unacceptable. “We arrest people for threats,” said a member of law enforcement. “We do it all the time.”
“What’s really sad,” said a community member once involved with management, “is that this is largely a great place with great people. But there’s a vocal minority that just can’t stop talking, can’t stop complaining, can’t stop causing problems, can’t stop posting to Facebook or running surveys that are meaningless. These are grown ups who spend their days complaining on Facebook. They need lives. They’re making it bad for everyone else. Recalling a board that’s trying to fix it only makes it worse.”
Disclosure: As previously reported, a principal of BocaNewsNow.com parent company MetroDesk Media, LLC, owns property in Seven Bridges, but that has no impact on our reporting.
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