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CDD Board Offers Thumbs Down on New Landscaping

It was intended to make Westchase shine for the Feb. 9 grand opening of Costco.

Instead, Davey, the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) landscaper that recently completed a $24,500 landscaping project to remake Westchase’s eastern entrance, faced disappointed supervisors who bluntly stated they didn’t get what they believed had been promised.

The project, originally pitched by CDD Supervisor Jim Mills, was intended to replace the aging plants and flowers at the entrance monument with a fresh look featuring greater sculpting and color. Mills, along with other supervisors, asked Davey to create an entrance with the appeal of the entrances to Westfield Citrus Park mall and the Citrus Park Plaza, across the street from the mall.

Davey Landscape architect Edward Nieves, who pitched and oversaw the project in January, appeared at the Feb. 7 meeting after the project was completed. There Mills and other supervisor made clear their displeasure.

Citing the computer generated rendering of the entrance Nieves pitched for the project at January’s meeting, Mills bluntly asked, “When is it going to look like that?”

In January supervisors said they would use the project to gauge whether to use Davey to rehab other areas of aged landscaping. “Just for the record, I’m not happy,” stated Mills, adding that Davey’s first attempt to impress the board had fallen short. “I’m waiting to be satisfied.”

“I was very underwhelmed,” added Supervisor Matt Lewis of the new plants. “Not just the size but the color.”

“The picture showed a lot of color,” Lewis stated. “There is no color in that foliage.”

“You’re now going to hear from a third supervisor,” added Supervisor Brian Ross. After detailing the project’s shortcomings, Ross added, “You now have enough information to hear ‘my client is unhappy.’”

While acknowledging it may not have been done intentionally, Ross stated, “I personally feel like I was misled.” He added, “This was just a miserable failure in other respects.”

Citing the chances of Davey getting the nod for other landscaping projects, Ross said. “I don’t see it happening on a go-forward basis.”

Nieves acknowledged that he shared supervisors’ disappointment in the result. “A lot of the plant material is a lot smaller than we’re used to getting,” he stated. “This time of year, that was the best I could get.”

Nieves added, “I’m not happy to hear you’re not happy.” He committed, “You’re going to see an improvement.”

Nieves said he had already added 60 additional plants at no additional charge and he planned to return with more plants on Feb. 8 to improve the appearance of the entrances. He added, however, that they needed time to grow and bloom. “There’s going to be a lot of color all year round,” he committed.

Nieves did add that he had never before had a customer expect a newly planted area to immediately look like the artist renderings. He acknowledged, however, his failure for making this clear in January.

Referencing complaints he had heard from residents about the project, WOW’s reporter also inquired about why the large trees were pulled from the Linebaugh median for the project. CDD Field Manager Doug Mays responded that the removed laurel oaks were declining due to disease. He added that the district could not have gotten permits from the county for the trees’ removal if this were not the case.

The Feb. 7 meeting also saw the appointment of Bridges resident Barbara Hessler Griffith to the seat of former CDD Chair Mark Ragusa, who moved out of Westchase in December. Supervisors interviewed Griffith and former CDD Supervisor Bob Argus of Lexington Park, who lost his seat in November’s election to CDD Supervisor Matt Lewis.

Making his pitch, Argus stated he would bring an emphasis on landscaping to the board. When Mills asked him why he thought he lost the election, Argus speculated that Lewis had benefitted from his ties to the Westchase Soccer Association, which Argus stated had also contributed to his previous electoral loss to former CDD Supervisor Brian Zeigler (Argus was later appointed to the board to fill a vacancy).

Asked by Ross about the matter, Argus also argued that his being a Lexington Park renter who does not directly pay CDD assessments shouldn’t be an issue. He stated state law simply requires residency within the district to serve on the board. He also argued he pays CDD assessments indirectly through his rent.

When asked his greatest past contributions to the board, Argus cited his oversight of landscaping and park improvements during two capital improvement programs. When Ross asked if he believed the board should do anything differently, Argus stated he would like the district to show greater consistency with landscaping, such as addressing the medians’ shrinking flower beds. He added, however, “I don’t see anything significant that we haven’t already begun to discuss.”

When Mills asked him why he continued to come back despite the lost elections, Argus responded, “Basically Westchase. I like Westchase and I think it’s worth working to improve it.”

Griffith, for her part, presented her professional skills in banking as positive attributes for the board. She emphasized a handful of new ideas, saying the board could enhance its communication with residents and more clearly delineate Westchase from its surrounding neighborhoods.

Emphasizing that she would also bring a woman’s perspective to the all-male board, she added, “I bring a sort of intensity to getting things done.” She added, “A bit of urgency to kick it up a notch.”

When asked what inspired her from the December 2016 meeting to apply for the vacancy, she referenced CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart’s comment that the engineer had previously told supervisors they were facing up to $5 million in pond bank erosion repairs (she later stated it would be lower), to add a sense of urgency to the issue. Griffith stated, “I didn’t like that. I didn’t think that was a good way to do business.” Griffith added, “I didn’t feel like it was on the up and up.”

Echoed by others, Supervisor Brian Ross emphasized before the vote that he didn’t want either candidate to conclude the other’s appointment was a rejection of him or her. Supervisors also emphasized their thanks to Argus for his service. 

Following supervisors’ questions, Supervisor Mills, attending the meeting telephonically due to work related travel, made a motion to appoint Argus. It died, however, when it failed to win a second. When a motion to appoint Griffith was made, it too sat a moment before being seconded. Once it was seconded, supervisors, however, unanimously appointed her, 4-0.

Subsequently, the board unanimously appointed its officers, with Mills named chair and Supervisor Greg Chesney as vice chair.

The board then discussed having District Manager Andy Mendenhall lead future meetings rather than the chair; Mendenhall currently leads meetings of the other districts he manages. While WOW’s reporter expressed significant concerns, citing residents’ past experiences with a former district manager who proved hostile to and very unpopular with residents, supervisors expressed confidence that Mendenhall would handle matters differently. They also emphasized it would be done on a month-to-month basis and would lead to greater efficiency and participation by the board chair.

In other actions:

Supervisors accepted the district’s 2015 audit, which showed a decline in the district’s fund balance (suggesting a deficit) of $310,705. This reflected supervisors’ decision to reduce the fund balance by using it to pay for a portion of recent park improvements. “You audit is good,” stated District Manager Andy Mendenhall. “It came out clean.”

CDD Manager Tonja Stewart, attending by phone, stated staff and she had made significant progress on aquatic plantings in four or five ponds to protect pond banks from erosion. Field Manager Doug Mays stated that staff would complete a pond bank evaluation and report by next month. In order to reduce causes of erosion, Supervisor Ross asked Stewart to work with staff to produce an educational brochure about best practices for homeowners whose backyards overlook ponds.

Supervisors unanimously passed a motion, 4-0 (passed before Griffith’s appointment to the board), accepting a maintenance contract for the West Park Village splash pad from Triangle Pool Service for $355 per month.

Supervisors unanimously passed a motion, 4-0, approving the installation of two concrete ping pong tables on the West Park Village Montague Street green in West Park Village. The tables are expected to cost $19,284 installed and the paver surface around them will run an additional $5,000. Supervisor Ross asked CDD staff to explore covering the area with an additional security camera to reduce vandalism.

Supervisors also unanimously approved Irish 31’s use of the Montague Street green for a free community event on March 18.

Supervisors adjourned at 6:08 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Posted 9 Feb. 2017

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