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CDD Addresses Castleford Shortcut

A dispute between Castleford neighbors presented Westchase Community Development District (CDD) supervisors the daunting challenge of playing King Solomon at the district’s first board meeting of the year.

Yet when the neighbors declined to find an amicable compromise, supervisors elected to impose their preferred solution.

Appearing at the Jan. 7 meeting of the CDD were Castleford residents David Snizik and Siamak "Mak" Rafieian, who own homes tucked into the back of Rochester Way’s western cul-de-sac. Both attended to make conflicting appeals to supervisors regarding the closure of a shortcut that was sending people down the boundary of their properties.

Snizik originally appeared at the January 2013 CDD meeting to request that supervisors erect a fence between an existing fence running along the back of his property and a nearby retention pond. While it would sit across CDD owned property, the five-foot fence across the shortcut, Snizik said, was needed to keep people from using a narrow path along that pond bank to cut through Snizik’s and Rafieian’s properties and quickly access Linebaugh Avenue. With access closed, shortcut seekers would have to exit the cul-de-sac and access Linebaugh Avenue through Castleford’s formal entrance, which opens on Gretna Green Drive.

After Snizik told supervisors in January 2013 that his house had been recently burglarized and the police had informed him that the burglars likely made a quick getaway through the shortcut, supervisors approved the fence across cut-through. Snizik, however, was told he would have to pay for the fence then.

Rafieian, however, appeared at the January 2014 meeting to express his opposition to the fence. “I’ve seen kids come and go on that pathway and I have no objection to that,” he stated.
Rafieian added the shortcut was regularly used by his 77-year-old mother when she was visiting and wanted to walk to Publix to shop. Rafieian insisted that if a fence were erected, it be built with a gate with a lock for which he should be given a key. Snizik, however, countered that if Rafieian received a key from the district, soon other homeowners in the cul de sac would demand one, perpetuating the trespassing problem. Further, Snizik argued that if a gated fence were to be erected, Rafieian should pay for half since he wanted the gate. In turn, Rafieian stated Snizik could resolve the problem by completely fencing his own side yard.

While CDD Chair Mark Ragusa described both men’s positions as reasonable and understandable, they declined his suggestion that they step outside the meeting, preserve an amicable neighborly relationship and take 10 minutes to forge some middle ground. “I want to know if there’s room for compromise here,” he stated.

Rafieian, who appeared with his attorney, simply reiterated his requirement that he be given a key to a gated fence. Snizik concluded, “We are at an impasse.”

Rafieian, however, may have done himself no favors by acknowledging he had dug up landscaping planted by the CDD along the pond bank to stop the cut-through across the district-owned land. Field Supervisor Doug Mays informed supervisors that Rafieian had removed the planted bush and thrown it into the pond. Rafieian stated he had done so because he thought Snizik had planted it.

“I’m not happy that a resident removed landscaping and threw it in the pond,” stated Ragusa. “For a neighbor to pull up a plant is just childish.”

With the Castleford homeowners offering no compromise, supervisors implemented their own solution, seemingly swayed by CDD Supervisor Brian Zeigler’s description of the narrow cut-through. Stating he had recently visited it, Zeigler described the two to three-foot path between the boundary fence and the pond bank as hazardous to walkers of all ages. In addition to describing it as being narrow and sloping significantly toward the pond, he stated the grassy bank was covered with cypress knees, posing a potential tripping hazard.

Emphasizing his goal was not to side with either party but simply address a safety issue that had been brought to the district’s attention, Supervisor Brian Ross made a motion to erect the fence without a gate. Because it was a potential safety issue, Ross’ motion also stipulated that the district pay for the fence rather than Snizik. That motion ultimately passed 4-1, with Ragusa opposed.

In other actions:

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart, briefing supervisors by phone, stated that new bids for road repaving and drainage work in Saville Rowe came in $12,000 lower than initial estimates, enabling the neighborhood to use its current district reserves without going significantly into deficit. At her recommendation, CDD supervisors approved two bids, one with CPLM for asphalt work for $22,930 and the other with Site Masters of FL LLC to handle drainage issues for $18,500. Both motions passed unanimously.

Supervisors put their finishing touches on a memorandum spelling out employee benefits. Addressing vacation time, supervisors approved annual vacation benefits entailing a pro-rated one week of vacation in the first year, two weeks of vacation in years two through four, three weeks of vacation in years five through nine and four weeks of vacation for employees who have worked ten or more years for the district. Currently the two longest serving employees have worked for the district for nine years. Supervisors are expected to pass the updated memorandum, which also details sick leave policies and district vehicle usage, in their February consent agenda.

Closing the meeting, CDD Supervisor Ross stated he had recently gone on the monthly inspection of the district’s property, which is done by OLM, Inc. OLM grades the district’s landscaping contractor, Mainscapes, and its review determines whether the contractor receives its performance pay, which represents 20 percent of its monthly contract.  “I would say there is a lot of friction,” Ross observed. While stating the OLM reviewer was professional, Ross stated he found the inspection, with a single exception, to be entirely critical. “I was really shocked at the lack of collaboration. For the most part I found it largely unproductive.” Ross added that the final grade appeared very subjective to him.

While supervisors learned that the OLM inspector had recently been replaced by a new one, CDD Chair Mark Ragusa asked District Manager Andy Mendenhall to share Ross’ observations with OLM’s owners.

Turning to another topic, Ross encouraged district staff to tighten their median banner display approvals. Ross cited the presence of four banners in the median at the same time before Christmas as excessive. He added that the Christmas tree tents on both sides of Linebaugh Avenue also displayed banners and decorations that Ross stated he had initially mistaken as trash. He therefore encouraged district staff to reach out to the property owners and limit the banners to improve the appearance of Westchase’s entrance. “I think we should influence – at the entryway – how the community looks,” he stated.

Ross concluded by announcing his recent acquisition of a long-neglected commercial property in Westchase and asked Attorney Erin McCormick if there would be any conflict inherent in his seeking bids for landscaping work on the property from Mainscapes. He also inquired whether, if he recused himself, if it would be permissible and appropriate for him to sell the district the property’s parking lot lights, which the district had sought to purchase from the previous owner. Those lights, no longer made, match those currently in Harbor Links/The Estates. McCormick committed to explore the two issues further. Subsequent to the meeting, Ross informed WOW that he had learned that the district’s contract with Mainscapes precludes the local Westchase service group from bidding on work from separate entities.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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