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The Villages
Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Battle of the Birdcage rages on before Architectural Review Committee

The latest chapter in the Battle of the Birdcage is the denial of an application seeking retroactive approval of the 12-year-old structure.

Robert Benning bought his property in the Greenwood Villas in the Village of Calumet Grove in 2003 and added the birdcage a year later. The birdcage has remained in place all these years and only became an issue when an anonymous complaint was lodged against it. Benning tried to make an argument that the birdcage should be “grandfathered in” but his retroactive applications were denied by the Architectural Review Committee in December and January. On March 11, Benning appealed to Community Development District 4 supervisors and the case was sent back to the ARC because it was determined that Benning’s due process had been violated. Benning has a hearing problem and hearing assistance equipment had not been available to Benning at the previous ARC hearings. You can read more about Benning’s appeal to CDD 4 supervisors HERE

On Wednesday morning, Benning made another attempt before the ARC. He struggled with the assistive hearing equipment provided by the ARC, but also had the assistance of a neighbor, Don Wall, who lives in the Greenwood Villas.

This photo from Community Standards shows Robert Benning's birdcage.
This photo from Community Standards shows Robert Benning’s birdcage.

Attorney Valerie Fuchs gave Benning the choice of whether to continue with the hearing Wednesday morning or try again with the equipment on another day in possibly another venue. Benning chose to proceed.

He told them a sentimental tale of constructing his birdcage, its withstanding hurricanes in 2005 and how much he enjoys eating breakfast out in the birdcage each morning.

However, ARC members were focused on the issue at hand, whether the birdcage encroaches on a five-foot easement. That’s why the birdcage previously has been denied.

“It’s like cutting my heart out to think I would have to tear part of it down,” Benning said.

Then Benning’s neighbor, Bob Matz, took his turn at the microphone and began hurling accusations at Benning.

He alleged additional violations, including the birdcage’s concrete slab and aluminum roof which he said is not attached to the villa’s rafters.

Attorney Fuchs warned Matz that it was not the proper forum for such allegations.

Then it turned personal. The two feuding neighbors locked matching glares.

“Did you hear that? He called me ‘sweet lips,'” Matz said.

He was quickly cut off by ARC member Don Simson.

“I think this is getting out of hand,” Simson said.

It was noted that Benning’s application did not include a site plan, something that is required with all ARC applications.

Thus, the ARC unanimously voted to deny Benning’s application but invited him to resubmit it with the proper documents.

After the meeting, Benning’s neighbor said they could be back next week before the ARC.

“It will be nice to get this resolved once and for all,” he said.

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