The HOA That Sued a Dallas Synagogue Also Inexplicably Tore Down a Neighbor's Wall

The 9-foot-tall brick wall that runs along the southern boundary of the Highlands of McKamy subdivision in Far North Dallas offers many benefits to residents of Rocky Top Circle. It shields their homes from traffic along McCallum Road to the south, keeps out critters that prowl the unused Cotton Belt rail corridor to the west, and muffles the blaring sirens from the police station on the other side of the tracks.

That is to say it did serve those purposes, until a significant portion of the wall was abruptly razed last year by the Highlands of McKamy homeowners association, a casualty of the HOA's bitter infighting over Congregation Toras Chaim, a small Orthodox synagogue that had recently moved into a home in the neighborhood.

As the spring of 2014 blossomed, Javier Giribet had never heard of and didn't really care about Toras Chaim. It backs up to Frankford Road, about as far away from Giribet's house as possible without leaving the Highlands of McKamy subdivision, so it had no practical impact on him. And Giribet, whose family had lived on Rocky Top Circle for two years, had never become involved in HOA politics. In this he was like most of his neighbors. The Highlands of McKamy HOA has traditionally been a sleepy outfit, primarily occupied with mundane tasks: sprucing up landscaping, planning neighborhood get-togethers and the like.

See also: Liberty Institute Helps Dallas Orthodox Synagogue Defeat Neighbors' Attempt to Close It

As a result, Giribet was unfamiliar with the drama roiling the neighborhood. He didn't know that one of the synagogue's neighbors, David Schneider, had just waged a guerrilla HOA board campaign the likes of which the Highlands of McKamy had never seen, sweeping a fresh slate of candidates into office on promises of lowering dues and keeping the neighborhood residential-only, liberally sprinkled with accusations of mismanagement on the part of the old board. The new board then brought the HOA into a lawsuit Schneider had filed against Toras Chaim, which prompted a backlash from neighbors who thought the synagogue should be left alone and sought, through various means, to extricate the neighborhood from the suit.

Giribet's first inkling that something was rotten in the Highlands of McKamy came in May 2014. The family had recently put their house on the market and moved to Allen on the expectation -- quite reasonable given the local home market -- that it would sell quickly. On one of his regular visits back to meet with the real estate agent and do routine maintenance on the swimming pool, he was surprised to find that several dozen feet of the massive wall behind his house had been reduced to rubble that was now strewn across the alley and driveway. The only warning, he says, was a flier from a couple of days before announcing that the alley would be temporarily closed.

The wall, just about everyone who was familiar with the its previous condition agrees, was in need of repair. It was deteriorating, and trees that had been allowed to grow along the opposite side of the wall had damaged the foundation, causing it to list noticeably. The old board had been debating how to fix it before they were swept out by Schneider and his allies.

But not everyone agreed that the wall needed to be torn down, particularly not in the manner that it was. At meetings following the demolition of the wall, Schneider and his board were pressed on why they didn't do an engineering study prior to demolition. Giribet, now with a newfound interest in HOA board meetings, says that, in fact, two engineers who live in the neighborhood told Schneider that it would be cheaper and more effective to shore up the wall. In a lawsuit filed against Schneider's board, Highlands of McKamy homeowner Andrew Jacobs says the work was given out to one company without seeking bids in violation of the HOA's bylaws.

Giribet's hope that the HOA would quickly rebuild the wall was quickly dashed. In an effort to handcuff Schneider's board and prevent it from pursuing the lawsuit against Toras Chaim, a majority of the neighborhood's 247 homeowners had voted to cap its spending power at $10,000. When Giribet asked the board to rebuild the wall, he was told that he would need to convince a majority of homeowners to vote to exceed the spending limit.

Meanwhile, offers on his house dried up. When it became clear that the wall wasn't going to be rebuilt any time soon, he moved his family and their stuff back to Rocky Top Circle.

Giribet was understandably irate. It seemed stupid and irresponsible to tear down a wall without the ability to replace it. Nor was he mollified when Schneider showed up with a sledge hammer and a roll of plastic fencing, asking for help erecting a temporary barrier.

The temporary barrier was still standing as of last week. Giribet tried to marshal support from neighbors to bust the spending cap, but when the board (now sans Schneider, who had been recalled over the summer) called a special meeting in December, seven months after the demolition, his proposal was overturned. At first Giribet felt that his neighbors had turned their back on him but he was soon persuaded him that, in fact, the board was using him and the wall as pretext for removing the $10,000 spending limit completely.

In February, a Collin County judge granted summary judgment in favor of Toras Chaim in the HOA's lawsuit. A few days later, the board was replaced by opponents of the lawsuit, who have decided that replacing the missing wall is an emergency and therefore doesn't require a majority vote of the neighborhood. Work was delayed some by weather but, according to neighbors, finally got underway this week, and just in time. Giribet recently learned that the missing wall had drawn the ire of the city, and that, even worse, the city contended that wall maintenance -- and thus legal liability -- falls on the abutting homeowner. Giribet plans to try selling his house again once the wall is back up.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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