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CDD Addresses Flooding and Parks Project

Flooding and the Westchase CDD’s upcoming parks capital improvement project were the main topics of discussion at their Sept. 1 meeting.

CDD Chair Mark Ragusa opened the session, however, by remembering former supervisor Ernie Sylvester of The Greens, who died Aug. 18 and whose memorial service he attended on Aug. 30. “Those of you who knew him know what a fantastic individual he was,” said Ragusa. Speaking of Sylvester’s military career, for which he received multiple commendations and medals during his leadership of a helicopter ambulance service in Vietnam, Ragusa added, “It was pretty impressive to hear what many of us supervisors and residents never heard.” Ragusa concluded, “Certainly, that was a great loss to the community.”

Following the adjournment of the official meeting, supervisors and staff briefly discussed placing on the next meeting’s agenda the possibility of commemorating Sylvester by naming a new park beside the actuating fountain in West Park Village after him. Formal action on the idea, however, will have to wait for their October meeting.

As part of CDD Engineer Tonja Stewarts’ report on street and yard flooding that plagued portions of Westchase on Aug. 3, supervisors heard 21-year Glenfield resident Mike Gaudet speak of the increasing tendency of his yard to flood in recent years. Gaudet’s backyard lies adjacent to Double Branch Creek, which flows through Keswick Forest and Glenfield before dog-legging west into Twin Branch Acres. That creek handles most of the drainage for Westchase’s western neighborhoods and communities like The Eagles and Waterchase.

Offering a history of the creek, Gaudet stated, “Everything was fine for the first dozen years or so.”

Gaudet, however, stated he saw increased flooding of his yard in the most recent decade. His pool retention wall lies adjacent to the creek’s wetland. Gaudet said that Tropical Storm Debby in 2012 and Aug. 3’s deluge after weeks of rain brought the creek within two and half inches of his pool deck. “The amount of water in my backyard is ridiculous,” he stated, adding he was upset at Westchase for doing nothing.

While Stewart suggested dredging sand that the high waters had placed on the creek banks in an effort to increase its flow through the creek bend, Gaudet stated that while he supported dredging the creek bottom itself, he’d rather the growing sand berm at the water’s edge be maintained as he felt it afforded his yard greater protection.

Stewart, however, countered. “I’m not seeing sediment build up in the creek bed.”

While Stewart said CDD staff was maintaining the area, a protected wetland, as allowed to keep it free from growth that inhibited water flow, she added that the bend in the creek was only five feet wide, leaving few options for improvement. She also mentioned that any changes Westchase made would also worsen flooding in Twin Branch Acres, which had homes that actually took water in August. She stated that the situation called for a comprehensive solution by the county to widen and improve the creek’s flow from Westchase through the creek’s outlet into the bay, which would prove a very expensive project.

Stating he didn’t understand Gaudet being upset at the district given the limitations the CDD faces, Supervisor Brian Ross asked Gaudet, “What is it you want us to do?”

“I want Westchase to be my voice to the county and state to get something done,” he responded. “You’re supposed to be speaking for me.”

Both Ross and Supervisor Jim Mills, however, stated that Gaudet’s best course of action would be to request the assistance of the Westchase Community Association’s Government Affairs Committee (GAC), which lobbies the county on community issues, as well as the community’s county commissioners.

Stewart also updated supervisors on her efforts to resolve the flooding through Sturbridge and the potential threat to Stonebridge posed by run-off from the M/I Homes development, West Lake Townhomes. Last month supervisors requested that a letter be sent to the developer stating that an outflow pipe in a large retention bond between the communities appeared not to be functioning as M/I’s development permit suggested.

Stewart stated that with the help of M/I’s engineer and Heidt and Associates (the engineering firm that designed Westchase’s infrastructure), staff was able to locate an overgrown and blocked outflow pipe. She stated staff would go in, cut back the surrounding vegetation and clean out the pipe so that it functions correctly.

Speaking on behalf of the Stonebridge HOA, resident Patrick Neylan thanked supervisors and staff for their work in addressing his community’s concerns and alleviating the threat from future run-off.

Stewart also stated that A&B Aquatics had gone into wetlands associated with the drainage of Montague Street in The Bridges, which also saw extensive flooding. The crews cleaned out overgrowth that was impeding the flow of water to outflow weirs. She stated that CDD crews had also put the areas on a maintenance calendar to ensure they are regularly inspected and addressed.

Supervisors then turned to their capital improvement project for Westchase parks, aimed at refurbishing the West Park Village actuating fountain area as well as Glencliff and Baybridge Parks.

Turning to the draft plan compiled by Stantec’s Neale Stralow, CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney addressed the Glencliff Park plan. He mentioned the Westchase Soccer Association’s (WSA) preference that the basketball courts be removed from Glencliff as well as his own desire to make the park more of an open, green space for the community. “I’m going to make a motion to remove the basketball courts,” he said.

Present at the meeting, Westchase Soccer Association’s representatives endorsed the basketball courts’ removal, citing the players’ foul language and fighting in proximity to children on the adjacent soccer fields. Stralow, however, stated he relocated the courts to the southern edge of the large field to create more distance between the older kids and adults playing on the courts and the younger kids using the park’s playground.

While Chesney’s motion received no second, CDD Chair Mark Ragusa said that he had heard from residents who were opposed to the courts’ removal. “I had people calling us racists,” he said. Ragusa added that it made no sense to eliminate district assets, particularly when players always seem to be using the courts when he passes the parks.

While WSA representatives and Chesney both called the accusation of racism inaccurate, Chesney further pointed out that the plan had already eliminated Glencliff’s baseball field. WSA President Margot Pinheiro also stated that both Davidsen and Westchase Elementary had basketball courts, although WOW’s reporter observed that when he had visited the schools to try to access the courts in the last three months, he had found them gated, locked and posted with No Trespassing signs. Pinheiro, however, insisted they are regularly open for public use.

Supervisor Jim Mills then suggested that instead of completely removing the courts, the new courts could be made half courts, making them less attractive to those who want to play full-court basketball. Stralow agreed this would change their use. “Reducing it would affect the desire and level of play for participants,” he said. “Most adults play full court.”

Stralow, however, added that the space would only permit either two full courts or two half courts. Two half courts, however, would increase the buffer with the soccer field.

Ragusa, however, added, “There is always someone on the basketball courts. There is rarely anyone on the soccer fields.”

Speaking on behalf of the WSA, West Park’s Nick Kuhn voiced support for the half courts.

WOW’s reporter added that one of the most common complaints he had encountered in community meetings over a dozen years was the community’s lack of facilities for teen residents. He observed that supervisors were discussing the removal or downsizing of the one asset specifically used by teens.

When Mills asked Ragusa the age group of the basketball players he sees on the courts, Ragusa stated he’s seen adults to little kids, but about half were teens.

Ultimately Chesney changed his motion from removing the courts to reducing the two full sized courts to two half sized courts. That motion failed 2-3, gaining only Mills’ and his own support.  Later in the session, however, Supervisor Argus requested that Stralow return in September with different costs for both the full and half-sized courts and stated the cost differential could potentially cause him to shift his vote.

With the decision to keep the basketball courts in some form at Glencliff Park, WSA officials stated they preferred they be shifted back to their current location beside the children’s playground. That request, however, won no support from supervisors.

Later returning to the parks’ plan, supervisors asked Stralow to return with a finalized park plan implementing suggestions previously made by Supervisor Ross.

Concluding major action, supervisors heard from Martin Frame, Land Acquisition Manager for David Weekley Homes, regarding a parcel he has under contract in West Park Village. The land lies south of FifthThird Bank and bordered by Cavendish Drive and West Park Village Drive. Frame stated that because the property was included in the inactive Westchase Commercial Association, he was seeking the votes of landowners belonging to that association to properly disband it. He added that the district, because it owned 1.2 acres within the commerical association, appeared to control 15 votes of the association’s roughly 100 votes. Frame stated he had approximately 60-65 percent of the association’s votes in favor of disbanding the association but needed 75 percent for success. He indicated the developer’s intent to then join the parcel to the Westchase Community Association (WCA).

Unaware they were stakeholders in the commercial association, supervisors, however, requested that Frame give CDD Attorney Erin McCormick time to review the matter and make a recommendation at the Oct. 6 meeting.

In other actions:

District Manager Andy Mendenhall said he had explored the purchase of a 3.1 acre parcel at the southern end of Montague Street along the railroad tracks. That land is owned by J & H Real Estate Holdings, a company belonging to former resident Hank Muller of The Greens. Supervisors asked District Manager Andy Mendenhall to explore its purchase when they discovered that Muller’s company failed to pay its 2014 property taxes on the land, totaling $2,878. In 2009 when Muller learned the CDD was negotiating with Westchase’s developer over the land’s acquisition for a possible dog park, he purchased the land for the developer’s full asking price of $160,000 and then offered to lease it to the district, which declined the offer. Mendenhall said that Muller claimed to have multiple bids on the property, whose tax assessed value is $128,000. When Mendenhall stated the current asking price was $1.2 million, some supervisors responded with laughter.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Kristian Gundersen, who oversees the district’s off-duty deputy patrol, spoke briefly to supervisors and reported that teen loitering in Baybridge Park and harassment of nearby homeowners appeared to have been resolved by the off-duty patrol’s presence in the park over two consecutive weekends in the beginning of the summer.

Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the WSA’s new use agreement for Glencliff Park fields for their upcoming fall season. Supervisors added the provision that WSA officials inspect the fields and address any safety issues prior to play.

After hearing from homeowners adjacent to a retention pond in The Vineyards, supervisors asked CDD staff to change approaches for cleaning and replanting the overgrown area. While staff had been treating its clean out as a Vineyards-assessed cost, slowing down the work by spreading it over multiple years, supervisors cited the pond’s part in the larger, community-wide stormwater system. They then approved expending up to $20,000 to quickly complete the pond clean out and replanting.

Supervisors approved the extension of the district’s auditing contract with Grau and Associates for an additional year at no increase. The contract is for $7,500.

After CDD staff cited reduced repair costs to sod damaged by cars during Montague Street flooding and Attorney Erin McCormick cited complications in collecting damages from drivers, supervisors moved to drop efforts to pursue the drivers.

Field Supervisor Doug Mays reported that the district’s landscaping company, Davey, had replaced its Westchase supervisor and the company was making progress in improving landscaping services. “The new guy is doing a lot better,” Mays said. Citing struggles with weed control in sod and stating that it was complicated by recent rains, Mays added that Davey still had passed the district’s independent monthly inspection with a score of 90.  

Supervisors adjourned at 6:50 p.m.

By Christopher Barrett, Publisher

Posted: 3 September 2015

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