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CDD Supervisors Address Dead Grass and 2018 Budget

A three hour meeting of the Westchase Community Development District on May 2 saw supervisors pass a draft 2018 budget that promises no homeowner assessment increases.

Meanwhile board members also addressed dying grass and debated hiring a landscape architect to make over Westchase’s appearance.

Opening the session was Westchase’s Community Resource Office, Deputy Hugh Alter, who addressed the recent car thefts and burglaries in Westchase. “Every car that was broken into was unlocked. And the two cars that were stolen had the keys in them,” said Alter.

Alter stated that the suspects in the crime were thought to be part of a South St. Petersburg group of teen car thieves, recently featured in a Tampa Bay Times article. The group was even caught on security cameras climbing over Saville Rowe’s gates. “Everyone  has to make a conscious effort to lock their car doors even if you live in a gated community,” Alter said.

Alter also warned those present that thieves also liked to target parking lots of day care centers, schools and parks, where they wait for women to leave cars without their purses. These quick smash-and-grab thefts periodically strike Westchase. He advised folks to always remove valuables from cars and make sure that valet keys are not left in them.

Making her report, CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated that pond bank erosion repair work would begin in early May in ponds in Wycliff and Bennington. Staff has also implemented a no-mow zone around pond perimeters where weed-eaters would be forbidden. Field Supervisor Doug Mays added that 2,000 more plants would be installed in ponds. Staff has stated the planting are meant to stabilize pond banks and enhance water quality. Stewart added that they recently did some pond water quality tests, which illustrated that the plants help clean the water. When asked if there were any undesirable water quality results, Stewart stated, “Yes,” adding, “And good ones too.”

Supervisors then heard from CDD Attorney Erin McCormick, who had investigated landscaped areas along Sheldon Road in front of CVS, Applebee’s and Burger King at Supervisor Barbara Griffith’s request. McCormick stated that she had discovered a district landscaping easement across the parcels, enabling the district to undertake maintenance of some  landscaping along the sidewalk there. The area, Griffith pointed out, is not being properly maintained. Field Manager Doug Mays stated that a bid from the district’s landscaping company, Davey, for replacing irrigation and replanting the area with sod and a viburnum hedge came in at $25,000 followed by $800 per month in maintenance thereafter.

Asked if it was a reasonable cost, Mays responded, “No.”

Supervisors then debated the next step, with Griffith favoring going back to Davey, getting lower numbers and getting the work expedited.

“It’s a noble idea or a great idea, but I would be opposed to Davey doing the work,” responded Supervisor Brian Ross. “They botched the entrance area,” he said, referring to recent work at Westchase’s eastern entrance.

Ross instead asked Mays to bid the work among other landscaping firms and to communicate to Davey that at least one supervisor wanted to see the substandard job at Westchase’s eastern entrance addressed before they would be awarded additional projects.

Ross stated he preferred the new easement work be incorporated into a community-wide review by a landscape architect, who would offer a global plan for replanting Westchase entrances and other areas where plants have aged out.

Griffith, however, countered that her goal was not to fix the eastern entrance but to address a different area that needed work. Supervisor Jim Mills added that he viewed the issues as separate and wouldn’t want to delay the proposed area another six months, adding that it was in poor shape.

Supervisor Chesney stated he saw Ross’ and Mills’ statements as working toward the same thing. He requested Mays return next month with additional information and bids for the easement area. 

Griffith, however, interjected, “What I find incredibly frustrating is a failure to move forward.” Referring to supervisors’ April vote to extend Davey’s contract an additional year at no increase, she added, “If we wanted to send a message to Davey, we shouldn’t have renewed their contract,” adding, “Focus on what’s in front of us, which is the easement.”

Chesney, however, referred to the Davey bid for annual maintenance of the easement after its planting. “Ninety-six hundred dollars to trim a hedge is outrageous.”

Mills also added that the board approved the contract extension rather than risk  bidding the job while the Linebaugh median was torn up by construction work, potentially lending to confusion about the contract’s scope of work.

Ultimately supervisors’ request to Mays to return with additional information and bids in June remained.

Supervisors then turned to a brief discussion and vote on approving a draft high-water budget for 2018, which will be used by the county in their TRIM notices, which detail estimated property taxes. While the district had budgeted roughly $370,000 in their parks budget to recoup money spent on last year’s parks renovation project, they pulled $40,000 from the line in order to keep homeowner assessments level for 2018.

Supervisors Griffith and Matt Lewis also made a handful of budget requests and asked staff to explore their costs for possible incorporation. Lewis stated he would like to see the installation of mile markers along Linebaugh Avenue and Countryway Boulevard, where many people bike, walk and run. He also suggested a walking trail in district owned land behind the large lake between Westchase Elementary and The Vineyards and a potential fishing dock on the large lake. Griffith asked supervisors to consider security cameras for the 12 or 13 non-gated Westchase entrances. Supervisor Jim Mills, however, stated a lack of power at intersections would make some impossible. District Manager Andy Mendenhall also stated that the cameras, due to equipment needed to convey footage back to the office, tended to be very expensive and they generally had to be replaced within a decade. Staff, however, was asked to return with different intersections where the cameras might prove possible and beneficial.

Supervisors then turned to resident complaints about dying grass along community roads. CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated that the county had reached out to her with resident complaints about brown and dying sod on Countryway Boulevard.

“There’s quite a bit going on with the irrigation system right now,” stated Field Manager Doug Mays. In addition to a near record dry season, which has stressed grass, work along the Linebaugh medians has caused the county to cut reclaimed access to some portions of the road.

Mays, however, added that the district’s landscaping contractor, Davey, had just let their irrigation technician go after suspecting him of sabotaging the irrigation system. Mays stated they had found a number of irrigation valves shut off. Further, the well pump that provides irrigation water to grass south of the railroad tracks had also been tampered with and now needs replacing.

“I understand residents,” Mays said. “We’re frustrated too.”

WOW’s reporter then shared homeowner frustration with the appearance of the new butterfly garden on Linebaugh Avenue between The Fords and Radcliffe, triggering a number of supervisor and resident comments about the area. While Mays stated that part of the frustration might lie in residents not understanding that butterfly gardens have a different, unique appearance, he stated staff will look into improving and fixing the area.

Supervisor Ross closed the landscaping discussion by proposing the district consider hiring a landscape architect to make community-wide recommendations for improvements that could be done over the next year before the district puts the landscaping budget out to bid again. With supervisors in agreement on exploring the idea, District Manager Andy Mendenhall committed to bringing a request for proposal document for a landscape architect that has been used in a different district.

Closing major discussion, Supervisor Griffith, along with Glencliff resident Bill Eddleman, requested that supervisors revisit the interlocal agreements with Hillsborough County governing Baybridge and Glencliff Parks. During Westchase’s development, Hillsborough County transferred the parks to the district with the requirement they be kept open for public use. The developer accepted the ownership due to a desire to maintain the parks to a higher standard than county parks. Expressing frustration that the district bears financial responsibility for parks used by non-residents, Eddleman stated, “That agreement is one of the most one-sided agreements I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Supervisor Greg Chesney and Attorney McCormick stated that the district had discussed the interlocal agreement with county staff in recent years and county staff made clear they would not budge on the requirement they be kept open to non-residents. Further, they added that even if the county did agree to lift the open-park requirement, the district, as a public governmental entity, would not have the right to restrict them only to resident use. When Eddleman pressed that the agreement still be changed so that the county bore some financial responsibility for the parks, Supervisor Jim Mills stated he did not want to open the door to the county establishing maintenance parameters at the parks, adding they would be well below Westchase standards. He pointed out the district also had interlocal agreements that had the CDD voluntarily paying for the maintenance of Linebaugh and Countryway medians because the community did not want to see them maintained to county standards.

While acknowledging a resident-controlled board would never approve the same interlocal agreement Westchase’s developer did, Supervisor Brian Ross described approaching the county to reopen the discussions about the agreement as a “serious error.” McCormick added, “We pretty much know what their response would be.”

In other actions:

While previously told the county had initially been opposed the creation of it, supervisors unanimously approved an agreement creating a maintenance easement over the drainage system of Five Oaks at Thomas Square, the Flournoy apartment complex slated to be built across Sheldon Road from Costco. The easement allows the district to ensure that storm water draining from The Vineyards and eastern West Park Village could cross the Five Oaks property’s drainage system without impediment. CDD Engineer Tonya Stewart also stated that drainage elevations suggested that should a blockage occur, Sheldon Road, which sits at a lower elevation, would be overtopped, allowing water to drain before Westchase villages flooded.

Supervisors unanimously passed a motion to accept ownership and maintenance permits of a large lake currently owned by M/I Homes, which is developing West Lake Townhomes. The lake lies adjacent to Stonebridge and Sturbridge and the district’s ownership would allow Westchase to address any potential maintenance and flooding issues. Previously during heavy rains its water topped yards and flooded into Stonebridge's street before the district undertook repairs. CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated that she would ask M/I Homes to clean bulrushes and hydrilla from the pond (and a few nearby smaller borrow pits) prior to transfer of their ownership.

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart presented supervisors with some documents related to retention ponds and pond bank maintenance. When supervisors requested from staff the status of a pond informational brochure for residents, WOW Publisher Chris Barrett volunteered to assist staff in putting together language for a July story on homeowner best practices and would then share it with staff for incorporation into their residential education campaign materials. Supervisor Brian Ross also requested staff work with the Westchase Community Association (WCA) to tap into their resources for distribution and to include WCA pond rules into the brochure.

Supervisors approved the finalized agreement with Securitas for the leasing and purchase of equipment and software for The Greens' new gatehouse guest entrance tracking system.

Supervisors asked Office Manager Sonny Whyte to bid the replacement of some signs and paddles for the West Park Village street signs, which do not use county standard signage. Some of the signs on Brompton and Tate Lanes, Whyte stated, had lost their reflectivity and could not be seen at night.

CDD staff received supervisor approval to move forward with the installation of wifi systems at Glencliff, Baybridge and the new West Park Village playground at a one-time installation charge of $3,500 and a $50 monthly charge thereafter.

Supervisors expressed no interest in a Verizon proposal to install a cell tower in the woods of Glencliff Park and lease the area from the district for $1,000 monthly.

Staff offered some preliminary pricing on new entrance monument signs for Westchase and some interior neighborhood for possible consideration during future budget discussions.

Supervisors adjourned at 7:11 p.m.

Posted May 4, 2017

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