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CDD Engineer Addresses Westchase Flooding

The Aug. 4 meeting of the Westchase CDD saw supervisors addressing the significant street flooding that occurred in Westchase the previous day and pass their 2016 budget.

Community Development District (CDD) supervisors began the session by opening the public hearing for their $3.3 million budget (the total excludes roughly $1.2 million in debt service). Discussion was brief with the only change involving the shift of $18,000 from the R and M grounds line to the budget line for walls and signage. Because the shift did not affect overall spending, however, the change had no impact on homeowners’ and commercial assessments, which will remain unchanged from the current year. (WOW ran the proposed and accepted assessment tables in the July and August WOWs.)

Supervisors passed the budget and assessments unanimously.

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart also addressed Westchase areas that flooded the previous day. Monday, Aug. 3. That day saw Westchase receive almost six inches of rain, on top of between 15-20 inches in the previous two weeks, a total more than one-third of the total rainfall Central Florida typically receives in a year. Neighborhoods like Keswick Forest and Glenfield saw an adjacent drainage creek overflow and obstruct neighborhood roads. The Bridges also saw significant flooding of Montague Street in two areas, prompting some drivers to drive around the street barricades and down the flooded sidewalks between Westchase Drive and Bridgeton Drive.

Stewart first addressed the creek flooding along neighborhoods like Keswick Forest and Glenfield, which saw the drainage creek and a Glenfield pond creep well into their yards and cover neighborhood roads.

Attending to express concern about flood waters that were still in their street were Glenfield Voting Member Patrick O’Brien and his wife, Olive. “My concern is there is no more room in the pond,” stated O’Brien, “it will overflow from the pond, fill the road and come into homes.”

“There is a lot of water,” Stewart acknowledged. “It exceeds any designed storm event.”

Speaking prior to the O’Briens, Stewart observed, “When Westchase was designed, we were in the midst of a drought.” She added, “Now we have above average rainfall.”

Stewart stated the drainage creek that runs behind the homes on the west side of Countryway Boulevard is part of a drainage system that begins above Waterchase and runs down through the Countryway community and Twin Branch Acres. The creek has long been a source of concern for homeowners during heavy rain events. Following the Aug. 3 flooding, some homeowners blamed the flooding on the fact that the creek is not being properly maintained and cut back.

When pressed on that matter by WOW’s reporter, Stewart stated that broad cutbacks of the landscaping were not permitted because it runs through a protected wetland. She added that CDD staff, however, does regularly remove dead trees and other overgrowth that might obstruct the flow of water.

The creek and drainage system, she stated, have functioned as designed. The system, however, was not designed to effectively handle the amount of water that tried to course through it in early August. “Mother Nature didn’t follow that [design] plan,” she said.

Summing up her remarks, CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney, chairing the meeting, asked, “The system functioned to its designed capacity?”

“Yes,” Stewart answered.

Olive O’Brien, however, pressed the matter. “We’re just trying to tell you that it’s not functioning as designed.”

Stewart also had no solutions for improving the design. “We can’t widen them,” she said of the waterways. That approach would entail the purchase and removal of homes to widen the creek bed.

CDD Officer Manager Sonny Whyte added that while neighborhood streets and yards were flooded in Glenfield and Keswick Forest, nearby areas with lower elevations like Twin Branch Acres had homes that actually took water. Whyte said she was aware that a resident there was working to set up a flooding task force to work with Hillsborough County to alleviate the problem and she committed to working with him to ensure that Westchase concerns are also heard.

Discussion then turned to two areas of flooding along Montague Street in The Bridges. One area was adjacent to Davidsen Middle School and the neighborhoods of Sturbridge and Stonebridge. Another area of flooding occurred where a wetland overflowed along Montague Street between Bridgeton Drive and Westchase Drive.

Stewart, however, largely addressed the flooding by the middle school. In recent months, Stonebridge resident Patrick Neylan has attended CDD meetings to express concerns about the impacts the new M/I Homes development was having on Stonebridge, citing stormwater run-off, fencing and even physical damage incurred by a neighbor. His concerns prompted supervisors to ask staff open discussions with the developer.

The Aug. 3 flooding, however, prompted Stewart to take a closer look at the development’s drainage plan. “I tramped through that swampy myself. It was almost waist deep.”

Stewart said that M/I Homes engineer appears to have made an error in assuming a pond, a former borrow pit, into which the development’s own retention ponds overflow, had a working outflow pipe. She recently discovered the outflow pipe, however, is inoperable. Thus, when the former borrow pit fills, its excess water simply tops its banks and flows over land to drain elsewhere.

During the heavy rains on Aug. 3, the overtaxed system near the middle school caused stormwater to flow out of a manhole cover and down the middle school entrance driveway, causing significant damage to its surface. The large lake between both Sturbridge and Stonebridge also overflowed, pouring through Stonebridge yards and into homeowners' lanais, in some cases coming inches of entering homes.

Citing the fact that the M/I development is merely a third complete and already causing stormwater flooding, CDD Supervisor Mark Ragusa remarked, “Are we done playing nice with M/I?” He added, “Their system is overflowing into our system and flooding our homes. That is unacceptable.”

Supervisor Brian Ross agreed that the district needed to take quick action so that a solution could be implemented during construction, when appropriate equipment was still on site.

Supervisors directed staff, including CDD Attorney Erin McCormick, to contact M/I Homes and Hillsborough County to insist the construction plan, whose permit was issued under incorrect information, be corrected.

In the interim, Stewart suggested renting a pump to remove water from the borrow pit and transfer it to the large lake adjacent to Westchase Elementary School, which is interconnected with a stormwater system that flows to the bay.

WOW’s reporter also inquired about flooding farther south on Montague Street in The Bridges, which, in the past has been caused by an overgrown outflow area in the adjacent wetland. That area of Montague stopped flooding for several years after the CDD completed a clean out. Both Stewart and Whyte committed to examining the wetland again to determine if another clean out is in order.

Supervisors, however, addressed damage caused to grass along the sidewalks and rights of way when motorists drove around road barricades on Montague Street during the street flooding. After Whyte announced that sod repairs along the road would cost the district $9,000, a cost ultimately borne by homeowners, supervisors voted 4-1, with Supervisor Greg Chesney opposed, to pursue damage claims against cars that were photographed ignoring the barricades and driving on the rights of way and sidewalk. Supervisor Ragusa also made a second motion that the district file a criminal complaint with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office against the identified drivers. That motion also passed 3-2, with Supervisors Brian Ross and Chesney opposed.

Supervisors again postponed discussion of their park renovation plans, although they did briefly hear from Glencliff Voting Member Ed Fugit and West Park Village's Nick Kuhn, a representative of the Westchase Soccer Association. Speaking on behalf of his neighbors, Fugit inquired whether that park renovation plans had significantly strayed from the initial intent, bringing park equipment into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). CDD Supervisor Mark Ragusa, however, reassured him that supervisors had requested the park designer’s plans not only bringing the parks into ADA compliance but also propose additions and improvements to that ensure Westchase parks remain competitive with those in newer developments.

Kuhn, who was accompanied by Margot and Greg Pinheiro of the WSA, stated the soccer association had concerns about the dimensions of the proposed reconfigured fields at Glencliff Park and the relocation of the basketball courts. The courts, he stated, would bring its players into greater contact with soccer players. The group has previously cited the conduct and language of the basketball players can be upsetting to some coaches and parents. CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney requested the WSA submit their concerns and proposed changes to in writing for board review. Chesney stated he hoped their park designer, Neale Stralow, would attend the September meeting. At that meeting, supervisors hope to review Stralow’s bid for continuing his role in the project as project manager and make final decisions about the proposed plan.

In other actions:

Supervisors voted to approve a bid for the re-installation of street survey control points in The Vineyards once road repaving is completed there. CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated she hopes to have the finalized road repaving contract ready for October.

Speaking on behalf of Field Manager Doug Mays, Office Manager Sonny Whyte stated that Davey, the CDD’s landscaping contractor, passed last month’s independent review of their work with a grade of 90. “Doug wanted to convey to you that there has been a significant improvement,” Whyte said. She added that while mowing had been delayed by heavy and persistent rain, it would renew the following day.

Board members asked Supervisor Brian Ross to investigate whether the owner of a piece of property in the southern part of West Park Village would be willing to sell it to the district. The parcel, which was originally eyed for a dog park, was purchased by the Westchase resident before the district could finalize its purchase from Westchase’s developer. The resident, however, has done nothing subsequently with the property and failed to pay its property taxes last year.

Supervisor Ross also asked CDD Attorney Erin McCormick to examine county property records that appear to require the owner of the Westchase Town Center (formerly The Avenue) to construct a sidewalk along Linebaugh’s right of way. Ross stated the owner appears to have failed to build the sidewalk, which he felt would enhance neighborhood safety.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this article, when discussing motions made to address drivers who damaged district property included the sentence, "Supervisor Ragusa also made a second motion that the district file a criminal complaint with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office against the identified drivers should their insurance companies not agree to pay for the damage." Supervisor Ragusa notified WOW that the phrase highlighted is in error and the motion made and passed did not include remarks made to that effect. WOW has edited the sentence to remove the incorrect phrase. The editor apologizes for the error.

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