Guilford Wildlife Club balks at Lake Jeanette fee request

by Jeff Sykes

Lake Jeanette Marina

The 64-year-old Guilford Wildlife Club could be on the verge of folding unless a break in the club’s stalemate over access to Lake Jeanette is reached with the development’s homeowners association.One side sees it as a blue collar versus upper class dispute. The other side sees it as a simple matter of contractual obligations. Which version of the tension takes center stage depends on who you’re talking to at the time, but it’s clear that the GWC’s days could be numbered unless a new contract is signed by March 3.Lake Jeanette is a 270-acre private lake, originally built in 1940 by Cone Mills to provide water for their industrial activities. The GWC formed in 1951 and received access to the lake in exchange for its members serving as caretakers of the wildlife and facilities. That changed in the 1990s when advanced development began around the lake. In 1994, Lake Jeanette Association, Inc., the development’s home owner’s association, entered into a long-term lease with Cone Mills, now International Textile Group. ITG owns the lake, while the HOA owns the marina, and leases the lake from ITG.GWC and the Lake Jeanette HOA entered into their first contract in March 1999. The five-year contract maintained GWC’s affordable access to the lake in return for the club providing a specific set of maintenance and caretaking duties. That agreement expired in 2004, according to Deborah Roskelly, the HOA’s property manager.Between 2004-2008 GWC members continued to access Lake Jeanette without an agreement in place, Roskelly said. “They never came back to us, but they continued to use our lake and our facilities for free,” Roskelly said. “They quit all their responsibilities. They abandoned all the things they did for us in 2004.”In 2008, the HOA approached the GWC with a new agreement. The HOA would hire a contractor to maintain the lake and marina, while the GWC would pay an increased fee to continue lake access. This agreement meant higher HOA fees for Lake Jeanette’s 1,164 homeowners.That’s been the relationship up until this past December. GWC would give 35 percent of each member’s dues to the HOA as an access fee. Most years it amounts to about $9,000.At the annual HOA meeting in November, Roskelly said, homeowners pushed for the HOA board to demand a “fair and equitable fee” from GWC members in order to continue using the lake. Most homeowners at Lake Jeanette pay $660 a year if they own a lake lot, or $330 if off the lake. About 50 percent of those funds go toward lake maintenance, she said. Qualifying non-residents, mostly members of the Lake Jeanette Swim and Tennis Club, pay an additional $150 lake access fee.The HOA board exercised their 90-day option to cancel the contract with GWC on Dec. 3. In a letter to GWC’s president at the time, the Lake Jeanette HOA asked for a new contract and an annual $36,000 payment upfront.”We were trying to allow the GWC to continue having a relationship with us that was fair and equitable,” Roskelly said. ” We had no idea that they would refuse our offer. There has never been any intention of the (HOA)’s part to remove the GWC from Lake Jeanette.” According to a timeline document posted on the Lake Jeanette HOA website, then-GWC president Jimmy Wall, himself a Lake Jeanette homeowner, told Roskelly and HOA president, Dixon Johnston, that the club had voted the proposal down. Wall said that GWC members had lost interest in wildlife conservations and were mostly a group of fishermen now, and the sentiment was strong to close the club and donate their financial savings to charity. The club has more than $70,000 in the bank.Roskelly understood that the club would most likely vote in January to dissolve itself. But that didn’t happen. Instead, members elected J.D. Blake as president.At the January meeting of GWC members, Blake said, Wall reported on the circumstances and said that if he remained president he felt that the club should fold because the “situation could become messy.”Club members decided they wanted a new president, and Blake stepped in.”They were not interested in folding the club,” Blake said. “They thought that I could come in and reason with the homeowners, but that proved to be wrong.”Blake said he’s rallied members to try and find homeowners who want the club to pay higher fees or be removed from the lake.”I’ve found nobody in the home owners association,” Blake said. “The only people that know that we’re being taken off that property are the board of directors.”Blake said he’s tried to revive interest in the broader wildlife activities of the club.”It depends on the president to guide the people through the projects that need to be done,” Blake said.The club is willing to give the Lake Jeanette homeowners 90 percent of membership dues as they come in, Blake said, but can’t afford to pay them $36,000 up front. The club would need to raise its fee to $150 to make ends meet under that scenario. Blake said that would cost them most of their membership, since they can buy a citywide license for $87 and fish three different lakes.Blake said the HOA rejected their offer to pay as membership dues come in.”I can’t pay for something I don’t have. I can’t give (them) what I don’t have,” Blake said. “It just isn’t right.”Roskelly says it’s a matter of dollars and cents.”This is a business deal,” she said. “These are contracts in place.”The GWC normally pays its annual fee during the following calendar year. Its last roster, in January 2014, showed 340 members. The club owes about $9,500 by the end of March.The HOA has set a deadline of March 3 for a new contract to be in place. According to Lake Jeanette HOA documents, that deadline is firm.”At the end of the business day on this date, the GWC will no longer have Marina access or use of Lake Jeanette, the Lake Tract or our Marina facilities,” the timeline document states.The intransigent stance of the HOA board raises suspicion, Blake said. “There’s more to this than meets the eye,” he said. “There is somebody on that board that wants us off the lake.”Blake said he doesn’t see his membership agreeing to the $36,000 fee and expects the club could very well fold in March.”After everything we’ve done over the years, that’s where the Guilford Wildlife Club ends,” Blake said. “Over greed.”