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Ruling backs White Cliffs residents

Judge finds owners had right to reject $1 million charge

White Cliffs sits on a bluff next to the Atlantic Ocean on the southern edge of Plymouth. White Cliffs sits on a bluff next to the Atlantic Ocean on the southern edge of Plymouth. (David Kamerman/ Globe Staff/ File 2008)
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / March 4, 2010

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A Plymouth Superior Court judge has ruled that residents of White Cliffs, a gated condominium and golf community in southernmost Plymouth, were within their rights when they refused to pay for a $1 million plan to stop erosion on their golf course.

The case stemmed from a two-year-old dispute between White Cliffs’ board of governors, which is in charge of maintenance of the complex - built in 1986 atop a 200-foot sandy bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean - and the residents, who argued that the property owners needed to vote on a project of such magnitude.

In 2007, the board of governors decided to address erosion on White Cliffs’ oceanfront 18th hole, after about 25 feet of it fell onto the beach below. The board opted to construct a rock groin extending from the base of the cliff into the ocean and shoring up the bluff with sand.

After securing environmental permits, the board notified residents that each must make a onetime payment of about $2,000 to cover the $1 million cost. A group of homeowners took the board to court, arguing the job extended far beyond a simple repair. Under White Cliffs’ condominium documents, capital projects such as building the rock groin required a vote of the residents to move forward. The project was put on hold.

Plymouth Superior Court Judge Richard Chin heard the case in December and sided with the residents in a written decision issued on Feb. 17.

“If that project were done now, its cost would have gone to $1.7 million, and the assessment would be doubled,’’ said Conrad Bletzer Jr., a lawyer representing James Byron and other residents of White Cliffs, including his father.

Bletzer said the delay caused by the court action did not result in the 18th hole falling into the ocean. He said the problem was resolved through an unrelated repair done in the past two years, after a leaking sprinkler had caused more of the bluff to fall away.

Bletzer said the damage was repaired and the area on the bluff restored. A structured terrace was then installed on the bluff and covered with vegetation to secure it. He said planting vegetation had been the solution suggested by his clients initially.

“And the cost of the repair was covered by the insurance company,’’ he added.

While the board of governors may still push for the groin to be constructed to address any future problems caused by storms, the residents will get to vote on the plan, Bletzer said.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.