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CDD Supervisors Address Landscaping Proposals and Lake Property Transfer

While the Feb. 6 meeting of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) saw over 50 residents attend to hear news of a proposed purchase of the Westchase Golf Course, supervisors also made headway on proposed Westchase landscaping improvements and the transfer to the district of a large lake adjacent to The Bridges.

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart of Stantec stated that she still had not received finalized documents from M/I Homes related to the transfer of the lake between West Lake Townhomes, accessed off Sheldon Road, and the The Bridges’ subdivisions of Sturbridge and Stonebridge.

The lake, a former borrow pit, is currently owned by M/I Homes. It has previously overflown and flooded Stonebridge’s yards and road. Its potential recreational use by West Lake townhome owners and others has been a source of concern of Stonebridge residents, who have expressed a preference for rules against boating and fishing in the lake.

In an effort to protect The Bridges’ homeowners from future flooding and control the lake’s use, the district jumped nearly a near ago at M/I Homes’ offer to transfer ownership of the lake to the district at minimal cost.  Doing so would lessen costs associated with lake maintenance and environmental compliance for the developer and the West Lakes Townhome HOA when M/I transfers control of it to townhome residents, expected in April.

As part of the deal, CDD supervisors asked M/I Homes to provide funds to ensure the lake is transferred to the district in compliance with Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWTMD) environmental regulations. SWFMD will carefully monitor the lake for five years after the development’s construction. Stewart, however, said that the developer finally responded that it lacked the funds to cover compliance and requested it split the $4,000 annual compliance costs (over five years) with the CDD.

CDD Attorney Erin McCormick, however, cautioned that while M/I had delayed transferring HOA control to residents for a month to give them more time to finalize the agreement, the SWFMD permit split between the HOA (which will still own the lake shore on which its development sits) and the district had to be complete before ownership of the lake and other shoreline is transferred to the CDD. She also asked Stewart if she had reviewed the lake itself for any compliance issues. Stewart stated she had not but committed to sending one of Stantec’s scientists out to look at the lake.

Supervisors ultimately voted 5-0 to accept  the lake provided M/I provides $12,000 for compliance. They also appointed Supervisor Matt Lewis as the point of contact for further issues or negotiations between meetings.   

Stantec Landscape Architect Neal Stralow then briefly addressed landscaping guidelines and templates he prepared for several Westchase’s entrances. Stralow advised supervisors to move away from the approach recently used at Westchase’s eastern entrance on Sheldon Road, which featured many different and intermingled plant varieties and heights and which left supervisors unhappy. Instead, his guidelines generally advised a re-grading of all Westchase entrances to lower them and bring them back to their original levels. He suggested that all tall hedges in front of entrances signs be removed so that the architectural beauty of the brick entrance signs – and the village and community names – are not obscured. The approaches to the signs, he said, should instead be landscaped with lower groupings of plants that will not grow to obscure the signs while providing different heights to better backdrop annuals planted in the very front. Stralow further advised planting taller decorative or framing trees on the sides of the monuments and, in areas where homes or businesses are visible behind the entrance monuments, larger, fuller trees behind the signs to shield them. The goal, he stated, was to incorporate broad bands of color and architectural framing that were pleasing to the eye at the speeds of passing cars while bringing the eye to focus on the entrance monument’s architecture. He suggested reserving the unpopular eastern entrance approach to landscaping for those areas dominated by pedestrian traffic, where they would be aesthetically more effective. Last, while acknowledging its expense, he recommended the district plan for the installation of lights at all unilluminated entrances to highlight them after dark.

Supervisors were positive and receptive to Stralow’s renderings, some of which will appear in the March WOW. Supervisor Brian Ross thanked Stralow and told him that he had provided the board exactly what they had asked for.  “I’d like to see the other three community entrance points addressed as well,” Ross stated.

Emphasizing the importance of Stralow’s lighting recommendations, even if undertaken in a phased approach, Supervisor Barbara Hessler Griffith added of the renderings, “It’s consistent with the Westchase brand.”

The next step, Stralow said, would be for staff to compile landscaping specifications and present them to nurseries to determine what can be accomplished within the district’s budget.

“It’s a great start,” complimented CDD Chair Jim Mills.

Supervisors then turned to preparations for rebidding out the district’s landscaping contract, the biggest component of its Operations and Maintenance budget. This year is the final year of the district’s landscape contract with Davey. That contract also entails a monthly inspection by OLM, Inc, a horticultural expert, which grades Davey’s work to determine if the company receives its 25 percent performance payment. During the district’s past bidding processes, OLM has also been hired to develop the bid specifications and oversee the bids. The entire process takes more than a half year and the new bid must be accepted to allow work to begin Oct. 1, the start of the district’s next calendar year.

Supervisor Ross, however, began. “I’m not sure where to point fingers,” he said, referring to Davey or OLM’s inspections. “But the maintenance standards for our landscaping are below the mark.”

Ross reiterated his recent complaints about visible weeds in plant beds and the poor appearance of hedges in parks and along Countryway Boulevard and Linebaugh Avenue walls.

Among other supervisors’ comments that weighed the usefulness of OLM’s inspections and grading approach to determine the performance payment, Griffith said she’s participated in ride-throughs with OLM during its inspections. “I’ve seen the community look less than desirable,” she said. “And I see OLM give them a pass, month after month.” Griffith and others expressed frustration that they had seen Davey fail the same parts of the inspection over several months but still manage to earn enough points to pass.

Supervisor Greg Chesney wondered if the contract should be changed to specify a minimum number of staff over winter months and to fail the landscaper when the company fails the same part of the inspection three months running, regardless of overall score. He also cautioned supervisors that they should likely expect a 20 percent increase in the landscaping bid, which hasn’t been competitively bid in four years.

Ross recommended that the district contract with OLM to prepare the specs and the landscaping contract in a way that gives the district flexibility to choose another inspector – or abandon the inspection system.

After District Manager Andy Mendenhall stated OLM might not be interested in undertaking the work on the contract without the commitment to maintain OLM’s inspections, supervisors asked Mendenhall to have OLM, two other landscape inspection companies and Stralow attend the March 5 workshop to discuss the matter.

CDD supervisors also spent a significant part of the meeting addressing the proposed purchase of the Westchase Golf Course. Coverage of that issue appears here.

In final remarks, Mills, Ross and Griffith all took time to compliment Field Supervisor Mays and Office Manager Sonny Whyte for their work in keeping the community beautiful. Mays thanked them and added his personal take on Davey’s performance as Westchase’s’ landscaper. He stated he’s been through several Westchase landscapers and he receives 22 compliments about the community’s appearance for every one complaint he hears. Mays stated, “Yes, we have outdated plant material.” He added, however, “I think Davey has done a good job with the property given the costs.”

In other actions:

Without explanation, CDD supervisors passed a motion to transfer the responsibility for chairing the meeting from District Manager Mendenhall to CDD Chair Jim Mills.

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated she did not have time to work this past month on the development of a comprehensive district map or a document detailing Westchase pond best practices for incorporation into a future contract with the district’s aquatics management company.

CDD Supervisors voted to replace West Park Village’s street and traffic signage. Details of this action will appear in its own article in March’s WOW.

Field Manager Doug Mays stated that George Doster, a West Park Village resident who had explored the district’s interest in building a dog park on the Montague Street green as an Eagle Scout project, had withdrawn the proposal. Instead, Doster requested the opportunity to build two free little libraries, boxes that sit on posts and offer donated books to children who wish to read them. Residents can make donations of old children’s books to the libraries. Supervisors approved Doster’s request for permission to build and place one in both Baybridge and Glencliff Parks.

Supervisors approved Irish 31’s use the Montague Street green for a free community event on March 10.

CDD Office Manager Sonny Whyte stated that Glencliff residents had expressed opposition to the installation of permanent shade structures at the far end of Glencliff Park’s fields for use by the Westchase Soccer Association. CDD Supervisor Griffith, who had requested the structures be explored, withdrew her request for them.

CDD Chair Jim Mills closed by asking Supervisor Griffith if she had received a copy of a Kingsford resident petition that took Griffith to task for leaving Hillsborough County the impression that her personal support for changing the traffic barriers between Kingsford and Davidsen Middle School was a district position. Griffith answered that she understood the concerns raised.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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