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CDD Acknowledges Error Made in 2013 Assessments for Some Westchase Homes

Westchase street flooding, the WCA’s use of a drainage canal and incorrect CDD assessments were major topics tackled by CDD supervisors at their Sept. 11 meeting.

Supervisors opened their meeting by hearing a request from new Brentford homeowner, Eric Buck. Buck, whose home sits on a retention pond just inside his neighborhood, requested permission to place a metal fence in his back yard that would encroach anywhere from six to 12 feet onto Community Development District (CDD)-owned land circling the pond. Buck stated that because of the small size of his backyard and WCA requirement that he not erect a dog run, he hoped to extend the fence beyond his property line “so we have a backyard.” Specifically, Buck expressed a desire to provide a safe area for his child’s swingset, with the fence offering protection from the pond.

While district staff stated Buck’s plan would still provide them enough space to maintain the pond bank with their mowers, three of the supervisors, Mark Ragusa, Greg Chesney and Brian Ross expressed reservations.

“I know we have allowed some encroachment onto our easements but not on our property,” stated Chesney.

Buck, however, countered, “I’m not asking to do anything my neighbors haven’t done.”

The observation, however, simply triggered concern from supervisors that at least one lake-front home in Brentford may have incorrectly fenced-in district-owned lakefront property. “I hate to do it but I think we need to look at that other house,” stated Ragusa. Supervisors subsequently directed CDD staff to examine fences to determine if any were incorrectly placed.

While Supervisor Bill Casale stated he didn’t see the proposed fence as a permanent structure, Ragusa stated it could establish a precedent that ultimately could get the district accused of unfairness by other homeowners.

When asked for her legal advice on the matter, CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated, “I think in most situations we have not allowed encroachment onto CDD territory.” Agreeing with Ragusa that it potentially established a precedent, McCormick added, “If the land stayed owned by the CDD, there remain issues of insurance and liability.”

Casale’s suggestion that the district could possibly sell the parcel Buck wanted to enclose met immediate pushback from Ragusa. “Why would we start selling lakefront property?” he said. “I’ll be the first guy to try to buy the woods behind me.”

Ragusa concluded, “We’re not in the business of selling land,” adding, “You don’t fool with lakefront. You don’t fool with conservation.”

A motion by Sylvester to permit Buck’s fencing of the property, however, received no second and died.

While Ragusa requested staff work with Buck to explore other options, he stated of the fencing proposal, “We just can’t grant this.”

Addressing street flooding and the flooding of the creek that runs behind homes in villages off Countryway Boulevard, CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated the county had confirmed that all that could be done to clear obstructions for stormwater flow in Westchase and south of the community had been done. “We have everything in the best working condition it can be in,” she stated.

Stewart, however, stated that recent heavy rains, tropical systems and high groundwater conditions could still overwhelm portions of Westchase’s stormwater system. “I would anticipate there will be some regular flooding in Radcliffe,” she said.

Stewart explained that some portions of Harbor Links/The Estates and that neighborhood may see continued street flooding because the stormwater pipes originally installed by the developer are inadequate to carry street run-off during particularly heavy storms. Those portions of the system are owned by the county, she added, saying that eventually the county could be pressed to make the expensive, needed improvements. These, however, are prioritized based on need and potential damage. She added that while some Westchase homes were seeing yard flooding from the creek along Countryway Boulevard, homes in Twin Branch Acres to the west were actually flooded by its overflow.

Stating that one of his vehicles was damaged in street flooding the previous month in Radcliffe, Supervisor Bill Casale stated he was personally exploring the availability of FEMA grants to address areas that see regular flooding.

To address the Radcliffe problem, Stewart stated another stormwater pipe would have to be run beneath Linebaugh Avenue to expand capacity.

While Supervisor Brian Ross encouraged staff to continue to press for solutions for persistent flooding, he praised Stewart and CDD staff members Doug Mays and Sonny Whyte for working extremely hard to address street flooding in recent months.

Making his report, District Manager Andy Mendenhall acknowledged that management company Severn Trent had made an error in calculating 2013 assessments for more than 1,000 homes in the western part of Westchase. These incorrect assessments were also previously printed in WOW. Because of the way Hillsborough County notices homeowners about property taxes and collects them, Mendenhall stated it was too late to correct the assessments so they are collected correctly by the property appraiser’s office. Mendenhall acknowledged that WOW had inquired about the lower assessments in mid June and the reporter was told the lower assessments were due to a credit arising from the repayment of infrastructure bonds in those neighborhoods. That credit, however, was already made to 2012 assessments, but Severn Trent incorrectly repeated it in the 2013 calculations for assessments.

According to Mendenhall, the assessments for homes in Radcliffe and in villages along Countryway Boulevard are anywhere from $44 to $100 too low. “On average, it’s about $65,” he stated.

The error, if unresolved, would result in a shortfall in the budget of $71,000. Mendenhall stated it could be resolved by either special assessing all the homes by mail or covering the shortfall with the district’s fund balance and then assessing the shortfall in the district’s 2014 assessments. Supervisors unanimously elected to take the latter approach, but requested affected homeowners be notified by letter of the error both this year and next year at Severn Trent’s expense.

Capping major actions, supervisors unanimously granted permission to the Westchase Community Association (WCA) to use the canal between the West Park Village tennis courts and Village Green for a new geothermal system that will heat and cool water in the West Park Village pool.

In other actions, McCormick informed supervisors that the transfer of common area property from Saville Rowe to the district was being delayed by an unresolved mortgage claim on the property. She stated she hoped to confirm with Bank of America that the mortgage had been satisfied.

As part of their consent agenda, supervisors also set salaries and performance bonuses for their four district staff members. While Supervisor Greg Chesney triggered a lengthy discussion regarding the methodology for calculating both, supervisors ultimately limited reconsideration of the field supervisor’s bonus, by supplementing it by $1,000.

District Manager Andy Mendenhall also announced that Crown Castle had proven unresponsive regarding their initial interest in building a Distributed Antennae System (DAS) in Westchase and the project, for now, was dead. A DAS is used in place of very tall cell towers and incorporates antennae into much smaller structures that are often disguised as street lights.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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