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CDD Addresses Parks and Landscaping Contract Discussions

At their March 4 meeting Westchase CDD Supervisors addressed parks, possible uses of newly acquired piece of land and the status of their landscaping contract in the coming year.

The roughly 90-minute session began with CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart of Stantec addressing a recent audit of the district’s parks. Supervisors had requested the audit, completed by a third party, to gauge district park compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other regulations.  While stating she was familiar with the parks and had purposefully not read the audit, she gave a brief history of ADA and concluded, “My gut impression is we are probably not compliant.”

Stewart stated many of the CDDs for which she works are facing similar challenges given 2010 changes to the law. Some, she said, have pulled out park equipment, some have brought existing park facilities into compliance and some have done nothing.

CDD Chair Mark Ragusa responded regarding the completed audit, “I think we need a second opinion.” Ragusa added, “I’d also like to see a plan with a cost perspective.” He explained, “I don’t think any supervisor is going to vote to remove the equipment.”

Supervisors concurred, with some questioning, given the age of most of Westchase’s playground equipment, whether it would be less expensive or financially more prudent simply to replace the existing equipment.

If that is the case, Ragusa observed, “This is going to be a major capital investment. I want to make sure we are relying on accurate data.”

He added, “We’re looking at hundreds of thousands for this.”

“Yes, sir,” Stewart concurred.

Stewart stated her company has completed compliance audits before and could work with a playground equipment installer both to make recommendations on required changes and provide cost estimates. Should supervisors elect to move forward, the cost of the projects, should they involve major replacements, would likely trigger a bid process and could also prompt supervisors to borrow funds in order to spread costs over a few years.

Stewart and Field Manager Doug Mays then addressed supervisors’ request last month for proposal for the possible use of district-owned land lying between Stonebridge and The Vineyards, which are both gated communities. While staff did not make a formal proposal regarding its possible uses, Stewart stated that any utility needs for the parcel would logically come from existing utility lines within the Stonebridge community. Mays added that if supervisors wanted to provide only pedestrian access to the parcel, it could be accomplished with a boardwalk running from Linebaugh Avenue along the bank of the large lake that lies between Westchase Elementary and The Vineyards. Mays stated at $100 per linear foot, the walkway would likely cost $125,000.

CDD Supervisor Brian Zeigler, however, stated he preferred to have a concept for what the property could be used for before building the boardwalk.

Ragusa pointed out that if the district had to undertake a capital improvement project to bring park equipment into compliance, it represented a good opportunity to look at development of the parcel.

CDD Supervisor Ross encouraged staff to explore partnering with a group such as the Audubon Society or the Scouts to develop ideas.

“A community garden,” suggested CDD staff member Sonny Whyte.

Ragusa directed staff, “I’m looking for recommendations: What can we do with the land?”

Uses, however, may be limited because of accessibility issues. The parcel currently has no ungated, public road leading to it. Unless supervisors decided to open vehicular access to the parcel through a gated neighborhood, use options would have to focus exclusively on pedestrian access as there are no nearby parking facilities. To this end, CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney encouraged staff to develop a list of possible uses that would not require parking.

Stewart concluded her report by stating she would likely have bids for the repaving of roads in Stonebridge and The Greens at the April CDD meeting. The district owns and maintains most roads in gated communities as well as West Park Village alleys. Homeowners there are assessed separately for the work.

Field Supervisor Doug Mays then briefed supervisors on the status of the current landscaping contract with Mainscapes. That contract ends Oct. 31 of this year but can be extended at no price increase by both parties. Mays, however, stated Mainscapes has expressed reluctance to do so because of their unhappiness with the district’s independent reviewer, OLM, which regularly grades Mainscapes to determine its receipt of performance pay, representing 25 percent of their monthly payment. In recent months Mays and Supervisor Brian Ross have expressed concerns about the subjectivity of that grading process. Mays stated that Mainscapes staff members have said the company doesn’t plan to bid any communities that use OLM for inspections. Mays, however, acknowledged that OLM recently made a change to its Westchase inspector and Mainscapes appears happier.

Ragusa, however, was quick to point out that regardless of tensions between Mainscapes and OLM, Mainscapes has never failed a monthly inspection. He added that given the number of large communities that use OLM, Mainscapes’ insistence that they wouldn’t bid any of those communities rang hollow with him.

Supervisor Brian Ross added, “I don’t think we can make business decisions based upon a vendor’s unhappiness with OLM.”

Ultimately Ragusa asked Mays to check with OLM to determine the number of large communities they still manage and press Mainscapes, once again, about whether they had any interest in extending the contract for an additional year. Ragusa, however, offered one incentive. Should Mainscapes express an interest in a contract extension, Ragusa stated, given the company’s long and positive track record with the district, supervisors might be willing to lower the performance payment to 10 percent of the contract. 

When he asked Mendenhall to check with OLM if they would be open to that percentage for performance pay, Mendenhall observed that in his own community OLM performed inspections and advised the board but the contract with the landscaper did not withhold any payment based upon a failing grade.

That approach appealed to Ross, who rhetorically asked that if the approach worked for other communities, why it wouldn’t work for Westchase. Mendenhall added, however, he voted against the change within his community because he believed in the incentive’s effectiveness and reminded supervisors that, in the case of grades they felt were too subjective, they could always vote to make the performance payment anyway.

In other actions:

At the recommendation of Field Supervisor Doug Mays, supervisors approved a change order to their current landscaping contract with Mainscapes. The change, at a cost of roughly $400 per month, would extend current maintenance southward along the western side of Sheldon Road between the existing bus stop and Thomas Ranch Road and westward along the southern side of Linebaugh Avenue across from Pilot Bank. The areas are currently owned by the district but have not been part of the maintenance contract. Under the change order, Mainscapes crews will trim grass, cut back overgrowth and pick up trash.

Supervisors took no immediate action on a request from a Greens family to allow a play structure to continue to encroach six feet onto CDD-owned property. While the CDD has historically declined such requests, the family has already been instructed to both move and lower the structure by the Westchase Community Association (WCA). Observed CDD Attorney Erin McCormick, “It’s a moot issue for the CDD.”

Supervisors adjourned at 5:32 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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