Little boat stirs up a fuss among Margate condo neighbors

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published June 14, 2008


MARGATE - John J. Madden, 84, likes to spend an hour or two after lunch sitting in a chair on the grass along the lake behind his condo, playing with his two 22-inch-long remote-controlled powerboats.

It would be an enjoyable pastime for the retired Boston police officer except the condo association has rules that say you can't use motorboats in the lake and you can't sit on a chair on the grass. It's a noise and safety issue, they say.


Eighteen unit owners in March signed a petition to the board complaining about the noise from the boats. They called city code enforcement as well.

"I can't sit on my patio and read the paper on Sunday and not hear the boat," said Doreen Zappala, a former president of the board of the 468-unit Coral Gate Condominium complex.
She also insists the rules can't be selectively enforced.

"Mr. Madden is a nice man, but if he falls and hits his head on a rock and kills himself, is the condo liable if the family says we should have done something to stop it?" she asks.



However, Norman Zimmer, 78, a current board member, said the association should leave Madden alone. The rules mean real motorboats, not toy boats, and Madden isn't disturbing anyone by sitting on a chair on the grass, he said.

"I think it's wonderful. It gives the man something to do, it doesn't hurt anybody," he said.

Madden, a great-grandfather who comes from a family of mariners, is a longtime boat owner and is still a member of the Dorchester Yacht Club in Boston. His last real boat, he boasts, was a 32-footer.

"I can't afford a big one anymore, so I got these as a hobby," he said of the toy boats, which cost $300 each.

After Zappala's petition drive, the association attorney sent Madden a letter demanding he comply with the rules. But nothing further was done.

So residents complained to Margate Code Compliance about the noise. Officer Dan Topp responded but said he didn't find a problem.

Madden made an appointment for Topp to check the sound level of the boats. If the noise exceeded the legal limit, he promised to quit using the boats.

At noon Friday, Madden prepared his boats. Topp and Code Officer Jackie King set up a decibel meter 50 feet from the edge of the lake.

Sitting on a chair on the grass along the lake's edge, Madden revved the engine on one boat for a split-second. Topp got a tentative reading of 77.7 decibels. The daytime maximum for the area is 60 decibels.

But because the sound was so brief, the reading was inconclusive, Topp said.

The boat then conked out and Madden couldn't restart it.

The code officers packed up and left. Madden said he will take the boat to a hobby shop for repair. If the cost of repairs is more than he can afford, he will toss the one noisy boat and stick to the quieter, battery-powered boat, if the association determines that battery power is legal on the lake.

Even if the repair cost is reasonable, however, he'll have to think twice. He promised to scrap the motorboat if the decibel level is too high.

That won't be easy because he loves the toys.

"When they're working, I'm on top of the world, I'm an 84-year-old kid," he said.