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Landlocked Landowner Demands Access through Stonebridge; CDD Supervisor Sylvester Delays Resignation

The Nov. 13 meeting of the Community Development District (CDD) brought news of a temporarily rescinded resignation and a bank’s demand that it be allowed to access property through the gated community of Stonebridge.

Opening the session, CDD Chair Mark Ragusa stated that CDD Supervisor Ernie Sylvester had rescinded his resignation letter dated Nov. 5. Sylvester originally tendered his resignation from the CDD board due to medical reasons.

Prior to his decision to step down, Sylvester had been running unopposed for reelection to his seat on Nov. 6’s General Election. Due to the timing, had his original resignation remained in place, CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated it would create an unusual situation of a district seat being left vacant. While she stated she was unable to get an answer from the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office regarding how a vacant CDD seat is filled, in the case of resignation rather than vacancy, remaining board members may select the replacement. Thus McCormick contacted Sylvester, explained the matter and Sylvester rescinded his resignation until he could be sworn into the seat after Nov. 20. While CDD board members stated they were not yet clear on Sylvester’s intention after being sworn in, Sylvester later confirmed with WOW that he still intends to resign but simply delayed it to simplify the transition.

WOW’s call to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office regarding how district vacancies must be addressed was not returned before deadline.

The uncertainty of Sylvester’s future intentions at the meeting, however, led supervisors to question whether they should take any action regarding a replacement. Supervisor Brian Ross expressed support for appointing retiring CDD Supervisor Bill Casale to Sylvester’s seat, should it be open and should Casale be willing to serve. CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney suggested he leaned toward appointing former CDD Supervisor Bob Argus, who ran unsuccessfully for Supervisor Casale’s seat, which was won by Bridges resident Brian Zeigler in November’s General Election. Supervisors also discussed the timing of potentially notifying other residents of the opening in an effort to seek interested candidates. Supervisors, however, elected to wait for Sylvester’s official resignation in before taking further action.

Interested residents, however, may contact District Manager Andy Mendenhall at amendenhall@severntrentms.com or 991-1116.

Supervisors then turned to a significant issue for a subdivision within The Bridges. A Nov. 5 e-mail to the district from Attorney Robert Pyles stated he is representing Tiger Investment Group, a subsidiary of Florida Capital Bank and the owner of a parcel of land lying just to the east of Stonebridge. Reopening an old issue, Pyles formally requested that the CDD grant the landowner a perpetual ingress and egress easement at the eastern end of Bridgeton Drive.

That portion of the road, however, lies at the back of Stonebridge, a gated community of villas.

The latest request represents a new chapter in a struggle to keep Stonebridge’s gates intact. In 1997 family members of the original owners of the ranchland that became Westchase negotiated an easement with Westchase’s developer at the end of Bridgeton Drive for access to that same parcel. The land only has two logical access points – Bridgeton Drive through Stonebridge or Promise Lane, a road off Sheldon Road. Because of the existence of the easement and the cachet of selling property accessed through Westchase, its owners have repeatedly sought access through Stonebridge.

While the Thomas family never developed the parcel, they eventually sold it to a developer named John Bailey, who demanded access through Stonebridge in 2005 to develop a number of homes on the land. The demand, vehemently opposed by the Stonebridge HOA at the time, resulted in lawsuit against the district. Costing residents approximately $40,000, the district ultimately settled the suit, granting Bailey access. The agreement, however, came with a contingency to which Bailey agreed: if an additional access easement across TECO-owned land, necessary to access the parcel, wasn’t obtained within five years, the existing easement at the end of Bridgeton Drive would be completely terminated.

Stonebridge was spared by the bursting of the housing bubble. Bailey unloaded the land to a developer called Westchase Cityhomes, which eventually lost the land to foreclosure. In April 2012, the deadline for acquiring the TECO easement passed and the district filed for the removal of the Bridgeton Drive one.

While Tiger Investment Group recently acquired the TECO easement, they no longer have a legal claim based on the expired Bridgeton Drive easement to demand access through Stonebridge. Because the law forbids the landlocking of any parcel, however, the owner still can ask a court to grant them access to the land. For now, the disappearance of the Bridgeton Drive easement may remove the strongest argument for demanding access through an existing gated community, perhaps putting access through Stonebridge on more equal footing with access through Promise Lane.

While the district has not yet responded to Pyles, supervisors directed CDD staff to bring the access request to the attention of the Stonebridge HOA.

Supervisors also discussed at length Glencliff residents’ concerns about trespassing after hours in Glencliff Park. Glencliff Alternate Voting Member Kathy Carlsen particularly expressed concerns about a group of teens that appears to be gathering in a wooded area off the park’s boardwalk. Corporal Ben Coddington of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office addressed the matter and CDD staff members stated they would work with their off-duty patrol to address the situation. Supervisors, however, emphasized the importance of Glencliff residents calling in trespassers to the sheriff’s office so the times may be recorded to pinpoint their responses.

Discussing a Stamford resident’s complaint about noise from the Westchase Community Association’s (WCA) Movies in the Park, CDD Field Supervisor Doug Mays stated that speakers at Baybridge Park were redirected during the last movie and a deputy had spoken to the neighbor to determine if the noise had been reduced to more reasonable levels. Addressing the complaint, WCA President Joaquin Arrillaga stated that movies would only run October through April in the future. Due to earlier sunsets during those months, the events should conclude before 9:30 p.m.

Making her report, McCormick stated that she had arranged a previously discussed transfer of land from the Saville Rowe HOA to the district and supervisors unanimously approved a motion authorizing it. Since its construction, Saville Rowe homeowners have been assessed by the district for maintenance of the parcel and only recently did supervisors realize that the HOA rather than the district owned it. In response, Saville Rowe agreed to deed the land to the CDD.

McCormick added that she was recently contacted by the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office, which stated it was responding to a complaint from Brentford resident Anthony Sanchez about a differential in fees charged to residents and non-residents for Westchase park pavilion reservations. In the past year, citing the fact that Westchase residential and commercial property owners were already being assessed to maintain the parks, supervisors elected to charge non-residents $50 for a park pavilion reservation and residents $25. Sanchez, a former supervisor on the CDD East, opposed such a fee differential during his tenure on the board, arguing it violated the interlocal agreement that transferred ownership of the parks to the district.

Supervisors debated how to respond to the county’s inquiry. McCormick warned, however, “It could go farther.” She suggested that county staff, if not satisfied with the district’s response, could bring it before the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). McCormick added the topic could also be broached during resident comments before the BOCC.

CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney recommended the board roll back the differential and explore with county staff how the fee differential could be brought before commissioners for approval. Ragusa agreed, stating, “We want to be good neighbors.”

Supervisors voted to do so 3-1, with Supervisor Casale opposed.

When Chesney followed with an additional motion authorizing negotiations with the county to maintain the fee differential, Casale made clear his disagreement. “We’re either going to submit to their authority or we’re not,” he said. “I knew it was going to be an issue when we voted on it. Nothing’s changed.”

When Ragusa stated he wanted to know the county’s position on the matter, Casale said, “I’m up for a fight.” He added, “In my mind, how much intrusion are we going to put up with?”

Chesney’s motion to begin discussions with the county regarding the fee differential ultimately passed 3-1, with Casale again voting in opposition.

Closing major action, supervisors unanimously approved a spot audit of the community’s sprinkler system by Toro and the purchase of four garbage cans for installation along Gretna Green Drive in The Fords and Montague Street in The Bridges.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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