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CDD Hires Landscape Architect to Prepare Acceptable Street Tree List

The Jan. 8 meeting of the Westchase CDD saw supervisors discuss street trees and return to a possible cell tower location in Glencliff Park. Supervisors also heard definitively about the status of their offer to purchase the Westchase Golf Course.

Opening the meeting, Stantec’s Kyle Steele, a landscape architect, addressed supervisors. “I understand from talking with [Field Supervisor] Doug [Mays] and [CDD Office Manager] Sonny Whyte that there are some issues with street trees,” he said.

Steele was referring to the trees the CDD has traditionally maintained in the strip of grass between homeowners’ sidewalks and the street, often called the right of way. In December Supervisor Greg Chesney inquired about staff’s replacement of an oak tree within his Wakesbridge neighborhood with a palm tree, where it stands in notable contrast to all the oak street trees .

In December Mays stated he was reluctant to replace a removed oak with another oak because of the trees’ tendency to raise sidewalks. He also cited homeowners’ complaints about their roots’ impact on sewage line and the difficulty in growing grass beneath them.

Stating he had recently walked through Weybridge Drive in Kingsford, Chesney stated he had also found several oaks replaced by palm trees and holes suggesting more were on their way, which Mays confirmed was the case. Chesney stated, “Doug and Sonny are very accommodating of our residents and that’s good. But absent standards from us, it could get out of hand.”

Chesney expressed concern that palms, while they might solve the problems created with by the oaks, represented a tree whose appearance was inconsistent with the rest of the neighborhood. He asked Steele to propose there other trees that would pose fewer problems while maintaining a neighborhood’s existing appearance.

Supervisor Brian Ross also stated it was unfair to ask CDD staff members to handle resident tree requests with no guidance and if the goal was consistency, having an established tree plan would take the pressure off Mays to approve trees inconsistent with a neighborhood appearance. Referring to Steele’s description of the proposed plan as a matrix, Ross stated, “That matrix needs to be quite specific.” Making it so, Ross stated, would make clear the board’s preference, giving staff cover.

Mays acknowledged that he had recently received a number of requests from Kingsford and that CDD staff had been removing and replacing the trees largely at district expense (except for a $35 resident fee). Referring to the tree removal, Mays stated, “If the county authorizes it, we go ahead and pull it.”

When Ross suggested he would like to make a motion to suspend tree replacement until the board adopted a plan, Office Manager Whyte stated, “They’re not our trees. They’re the homeowner trees.”

WOW’s reporter, however, corrected the inaccuracy, pointing out that all Westchase homeowners properties ended where their front lawns first touch their sidewalks. All sidewalks, driveway aprons, and the grassy area between the sidewalk and road, including its trees, are owned by Hillsborough County in non-gated communities and the CDD or HOA in gated neighborhoods. He also pointed out that no one had mentioned the Westchase developer’s reason for planting oaks in most neighborhoods and the reason the CDD historically maintained them. The reporter observed that the developer’s stated goal was to create a tree canopy above the roads reminiscent of downtown’s Hyde Park. He questioned whether undermining the aesthetic without neighborhood-wide input would upset residents who purchased homes in the neighborhood in part because of the appearance of the tree canopies.

Ross stated of the property ownership, “There is a lack of clarity in people’s minds.” He added, “No matter what our county has said, we want our trees to look beautiful.” Ross then made a motion to suspend further tree removal until the board adopts a formal street tree plan.

When staff asked if they should return the fees of homeowners who had already paid or not plant a new tree where an oak has already been removed, Ross stated, to be consistent, affected homeowners should be informed that the palms could be replaced by trees consistent with the adopted neighborhood street tree plan in the future.

Ross’ motion passed 5-0. A second motion to hire Steele to develop a street tree plan also passed 5-0.

CDD Engineer Tonya Stewart then distributed a map of Glencliff Park with a red rectangle indicating the preferred 30’ x 100’ shape of a cell tower parcel. Supervisor Matt Lewis said he visited the park and the proposed location, which overlaps the southern parking lot and takes 10 of its existing 28 parking spots, was the most shielded location from the road. While stating he was initially concerned with the loss of parking, he stated he had come around to support the tower’s location there after the visit. “The more we looked at it,” he stated, “the more we thought this is the best place to put it.”

Stewart added that some of the spots could be saved by reconfiguring the area as its development moves forward but added that the developer, Vertex, needed a commitment from the district before finalizing the plan.

While observing the lot is most commonly used during soccer games, Supervisor Jim Mills wondered if the rectangle shape could be made more irregular to allow more spots to be saved.

CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated that Vertex wanted to maintain flexibility regarding location as they move forward into permitting but observed that it might not work for the board.

Stewart added, “They can’t determine the area until we determine we are moving forward.”

But Supervisor Forrest Baumhover observed that he wanted to know the location and its impact before offering formal approval.

Supervisor Brian Ross added that he felt it was likely Vertex picked the spot that was most beneficial to them but recalled that they had previously stated they had flexibility. “I think we need to come back with a strong message that they can’t take half of our parking lot out there.” Ross added, “At some point we need to tell them, ‘Put your best offer out there.’”

Ross asked Stewart to go back to Vertex and ask them to make their best offer for supervisors to consider.

Closing major action, Supervisor Chesney stated he had recently met with Nick Neubauer, the owner of the Westchase Golf Course, to determine whether Neubauer still had any interest in selling the course to the district. “The best way of saying it is that the golf course currently isn’t for sale and we will be the first one to know when it is.” Chesney added, “It’s simply a business decision on his part. He thinks he can rehabilitate it and make it worth more.”

Supervisor Matt Lewis thanked Chesney for all his work on the potential purchase. Supervisor Mills added that the discussions to purchase it appear to have helped contribute to improvements at the golf course. Adding that their goal was to avoid a bad outcome, Mills observed that an improved, successful course would also accomplish that.

In other actions:

After discussing street lights at length, the difficulty determining what lights the district was responsible for and whether the CDD was being billed accurately, supervisors asked District Manager Andy Mendenhall to inquire with a company that does utility audits. Supervisors stated the audit should produce a comprehensive document illustrating which lights the district was responsible for.  Addressing Supervisor Greg Chesney’s December concern, Mendenhall stated that the district appeared to be assessing West Park Village for its lights.

Supervisors unanimously voted to hire ADA Site Compliance, at a cost of $3,900, to bring the district’s web site into compliance with federal disability laws and then maintain its compliance for $1,500 annually.

Supervisors approved a $10,250 bid for brick repair work behind four homes on Royce Drive, where a crack has appeared on the wall separating the neighborhood from Linebaugh Avenue.

Supervisor Chesney stated that with the golf course purchase suspended, supervisors should consider using the retained fund balance on long discussed projects, such as landscaping enhancements, a sidewalk to Sheldon Road on the south side of Linebaugh and the development of a walkway to CDD owned land between Stonebridge and The Vineyards, which CDD staff has also discussed using as a plant nursery for the district.

Supervisors adjourned at 6:12 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Posted Jan. 10, 2018


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