Blog: Home Owner Association balks at Underground Storage Tank, Thwarting Hurricane Plans for Elderly Couple

Apr 26, 2011

The following article was published on April 25, 2011, in the Tampa Tribune: 

Russ Lemmon:  HOA Balks at Underground Storage Tank, Thwarting Hurricane Plans for Elderly Couple

George and Roseann Elsbree used to be seasonal residents of Indian River County.

They would live here from September until mid-May, when they returned to their home outside of Syracuse, N.Y.

Beginning this year, they are staying put. Mobility issues — George is 95, Roseann is 86 — have forced them to become year-round residents of Florida.

Which means they’ll be here during the heart of hurricane season.

The prospect of a hurricane hitting the area, which happened in 2004 and ’05, has Kathy Sherlock and her siblings — all of whom live in the Syracuse area — trying to take precautions on behalf of their mother and stepfather.

Their Garden Grove home, built in 2000, survived Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. That’s why Sherlock is comfortable with the thought of her elderly relatives being holed up in the home should another hurricane strike.

A key part of the plan, of course, is a generator.

It’s an insurance policy of sorts against the electricity going out for an extended period.

“With a long-term outage, I don’t know if they could handle that humidity without any air conditioning in the house,” Sherlock said Monday in a phone interview from New York. “I would feel so much better if they had a generator.”

Her mother decided a generator with an underground storage tank was the best option. Sherlock’s cousin (her mother’s niece) had such a system installed and recommended it to Roseann Elsbree.

The 500-gallon propane tank would be buried in the front yard of the home. Once in place, it would be out of sight to anyone in the neighborhood.

There’s only one problem: The Garden Grove homeowners’ association won’t allow it.

The association’s bylaws state: “No inflammables except propane for grills and fuel for lawn mowers in federally approved containers shall be stored anywhere on the Properties.”

It should be noted the bylaws were rewritten in 2003, long before underground tanks gained their current level of popularity.

So, with that in mind, I find the Garden Grove HOA denying an underground storage tank rather perplexing.

“Undoubtedly, when this rule was put in the bylaws, they were thinking of above-ground tanks, which admittedly are an eyesore,” said Bill Broocke, owner of US Generator. “But the tanks we put in are underground and not visible.”

Broocke said his company has installed underground tanks in developments all over the county. He called this situation “unusual.”

Mel Schalois, president of the Garden Grove HOA, says the board is “legally bound by our documents.” It’s his view that storage tanks are prohibited in the bylaws.

The only way the wording can be changed, he said, is at the annual meeting in December. Approval by a majority of homeowners would be required to change the wording.

Schalois lives across the street from the Elsbrees, and he’s sympathetic about their situation. But legally, he said, nothing can be done.

He encouraged the Elsbrees — and their children — to come up with a Plan B for a hurricane. He said a special-needs shelter is one option.

According to Sherlock, evacuating in the event of a hurricane would be very difficult — both physically and mentally — for her stepfather.

“George feels very secure in the house,” she said, “and he gets very nervous when he’s not in it. … He does not want to go into a nursing home, and we’re trying to do everything possible to keep him home.”

Bob Hanmer, sales manager for US Generator, believes the Garden Grove HOA is “living in the Dark Ages” by not allowing underground storage tanks.

“I think they’re scared of the word ‘propane.’ It’s an archaic, outdated way of thinking,” he said. “The tanks are built to national codes — they’re extremely safe. Once they’re in the ground, they’re secured in a way that they’ll never float up in case of a flood.”

Sherlock said a portable generator is not an option because her mother would not be able to maintain it.

The generator with an underground storage tank requires little maintenance, as it has an automatic transfer. The total package — including a 17-kilowatt generator and 500-gallon storage tank — runs about $11,000, according to Hanmer.

“She really, really wants this,” Sherlock said.

There’s something to be said about peace of mind.

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