The association wants a judge to find a resident in contempt of court for allegedly feeding dangerous wildlife despite a court injunction. In the past, the feeding attracted swarms of vomiting vultures into the West Palm community.
WEST PALM BEACH — The Ibis Property Owners Association wants a judge to find one of its residents in contempt of court for allegedly feeding dangerous wildlife despite a court injunction, an activity that previously attracted swarms of vomiting vultures, drove neighbors to distraction and drew the glare of global attention to the quiet community.
A lawyer for the association told Circuit Court Judge Scott Kerner on Wednesday that spy cams caught Irma Acosta Arya feeding animals again, behind her home at 6106 Wildcat Run, as recently as last Friday. It’s an obsession, attorney Angela Prudenti said, that has attracted vomiting and bleeding vultures as well as alligators, coyotes, raccoons, rats and cockroaches - and now, true to the street’s name, a bobcat.
Neither Arya nor her attorney, James Potts Sr., appeared for the hearing Wednesday morning, leading Kerner to order an evidentiary hearing for Tuesday to determine why Arya shouldn’t be found in contempt for violating the temporary injunction he imposed last month.
Potts said Thursday he didn’t attend because he slipped and broke his elbow at home while getting ready. He denied his client violated the injunction.
“Where is the proof?” he said of the spy cam photos. “Where is her hand, providing or presenting (food) or enticing an animal or the hope of an animal, anywhere on that footage?”
The Palm Beach Post reported in August that dozens, if not hundreds, of black vultures had swooped into Arya’s yard for the feedings, shredded neighbors’ screened enclosures and took over pools, patios and barbecue grills.
The 1,841-home luxury community backs up onto marshland abutting West Palm Beach’s Grassy Waters Preserve, a 23-square-mile expanse of wetlands off Northlake Boulevard.
Association rules prohibit feeding wildlife. Wildlife experts say feeding reduces animals’ fear of humans, which can lead to dangerous encounters.
Over-familiarity also breeds contempt on the part of humans, at least on Wildcat Way.
“The vultures just vomit everywhere,” neighbor Siobhan Casamino said in August. “Defecating and vomiting. It’s just gross.”
The association cited Arya for violating its rules by feeding wildlife and creating a nuisance, and for leaving her garage door open, which, by her admission, was related to the bird brouhaha. She’d gone in there to smoke at night, as she couldn’t go out back because of the birds, she said in a letter of apology Aug. 21, “to whom it may concern,” requesting the association waive $200 in fines.
“I am also feeling the damaging effects of the vultures; from feces and vomit on my pool deck, to having to dispose of all my patio furniture due to it being destroyed,” she wrote, adding that she stopped all feeding as of Aug. 15. “I didn’t realize my love for animals and nature (why I chose to live at Ibis...) would have caused such a disturbance to myself and neighbors.”
But, as she’d been warned and cited before, the association went to court. Kerner issued a temporary injunction order Nov. 14.
Her carnivore-catering goes back at least to 2016, three years after she moved in, the association alleged in court filings.
The backyards of homes on the street have gates that lead to a berm at the edge of the marsh.
Ibis resident Cynthia Bush testified that she’d seen Arya in 2016, “sitting on the berm with raw chicken parts beside her and alligators swimming toward her.”
Capt. Greg Butcher, director of the association’s Department of Public Safety and a licensed alligator trapper, testified that in 2016 her saw “an abnormally fat alligator directly behind the defendant’s home that showed no fear of humans.”
Rather than let the gator resolve the problem for the neighbors, it was trapped and removed.
Arya received a verbal warning from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission not to feed wildlife.
In January 2019, another Arya neighbor repeatedly noticed Arya’s recycling bins filled with 20-pound bags of dog food. Arya did not own a dog, neighbor Cheryl Katz said.
During the same period, Katz reported seeing “large numbers of vultures” fly to Arya’s property and then come into her own yard with raw meat in their mouths.
That stopped for a few weeks in May, after Arya was issued a citation, Katz said. But then Katz started seeing “greater and greater numbers of empty dog food bags,” she testified.
Dozens and dozens of vultures invaded. They broke into Katz’s screened pool enclosure, couldn’t figure out how to get out and went into a fighting frenzy.
“Imagine 20 large vultures trapped, biting each other - and they can bite through bones,” she said. “They would bang against my windows running away from a bird that was attacking them. Blood was everywhere. It was a vile, vicious, traumatic event.”
According to Gordon Holness, the association president, Capt. Butcher “personally observed bowls of food and peanuts on the Defendant’s property and that he saw an alligator behind the Defendant’s property that showed no fear of humans,” according to the court filings.
Holness told The Post that the association security guards patrol the berm behind her house 10 to 12 times a day.
“It’s crazy what we have to do to protect our residents and keep things under control,” he said.
Butcher and Officer Jeffrey Gouveia of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission testified that Arya continued to feed wildlife for weeks after Aug. 15. On Sept. 9 the commission issued her a citation and fined her $100. As of the Nov. 14 order, she hadn’t paid it, according to the injunction order.
Gouveia testified that he fired .22 caliber blanks behind Arya’s house to scare off the vultures. That caused its own problems.
“The sound of the .22 caliber blanks, similar to actual gunshots, being shot behind the Ibis residents’ houses has also interfered with the Ibis residents’ peaceful use and enjoyment of their properties,” according to the judge’s order.
“What do we think’s going on here?” Judger Kerner asked as Wednesday’s hearing drew to a close. “The court has given all these warnings to this individual to stop feeding alligators and stuff. Do you know any information here about why this behavior is going on?”
Association attorney Prudenti wouldn’t hazard a guess.
Arya could not be reached for comment. But her lawyer, Potts, said Thursday his client, who is 62, is from a family that owns and develops real estate. “Like everyone else in that neighborhood, they’ve had a measure of success,” he said.
Arya is “anything but crazy,” he added. “She does care for all living things.”
He insisted she has abided by the injunction and that the spy cam showed nothing to the contrary. Sure, she was out in her backyard at night but there are kittens back there, he said.
“I would characterize these allegations as specious.”
She’s been cited hundreds of dollars for leaving her garage door cracked open 10 inches at 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., Potts complained, noting that he’d attended two association grievance hearings on those alleged violations. It’s a big home with a long driveway, so the association guards must have worked hard to spot the door ajar, he said.
The rules say the garage doors are for ingress and egress of vehicles, he said. “They’re interpreting that as saying at no point can you use it for anything else. No reasonable jury or judge would draw the same conclusion with a plain reading of the bylaws,” Potts said.
Meanwhile the court battle drags on, Holness sighed.
Considering that mainly just four houses have been affected in the sprawling, 2,000-acre community, it’s a bit crazy that he has received media calls from as far afield as New York, Europe, Korea and Tokyo.
But it is a big deal to Ibis Golf & Country Club residents, who, like Arya, live out in these western reaches of the city because they like being close to nature, if not that close.
“If someone was to get hurt by this, you know damn well they’ll go after the Property Owners Association for not adequately addressing it,” he said. “My job to provide security and safety for our residents and provide a great environment for them….
“So we’re in a really difficult position.”
Follow Tony Doris on Twitter @TonyDorisPBP