CDD Discusses Concerns with Landscaping Company

Chairman Matt Lewis began the June 4 meeting by opening the floor to audience comments.

Radcliffe VM took the opportunity to update the board on his efforts gather the requisite number of votes needed to seek board approval to install security cameras. Sixty homes had responded, 80% in favor and 20% opposed. Forty homes had not responded. Because he was just shy of a majority vote, Holt informed the board he would go passive on the matter. He also presented three questions: 1) could something be done about the wear and tear on the community’s brick monument; 2) was there any possibility of installing a fountain in Radcliffe’s pond; 3) could the cul de sac sign that reads Dead End be changed to No Outlet for consistency. The board informed Holt the street sign would be a county issue and Holt said he would email details on the other two items for the board’s consideration.

A Stonebridge resident appealed the board’s decision to deny her request to have her street tree removed. She explained that not only was the tree raising her driveway, but she had also learned the roots had caused extensive sewer line damage that was not disclosed when she purchased the home. Lewis said the arborist indicated the tree was in good health, but with the knowledge about the previous damage, he made a motion to approve the removal of the tree. He clarified the cost of removal would fall on the homeowner and the CDD would donate the replacement tree. Supervisor Greg Chesney pointed out the arborist’s recommendation was to root prune. Supervisor Reggie Gillis noted that the arborist wasn’t made aware of previous sewer damage. The initial vote stalled 2-2. Supervisor Chris Barrett was absent.

The homeowner reiterated that the sewer line is a ticking timebomb. Chesney inquired about the percentage of crepe myrtles to live oaks in Stonebridge and Association Manager Sonny Whyte said there are 27 crepe myrtles and 13 live oaks. With this information, Chesney made a new motion to remove both trees (the one in question and a neighboring tree the arborist had recommended be removed). It passed 3-1, with Wimsatt dissenting.

Engineer Stephen Brletic of BDI offered and update on discussions from the last two meetings regarding the possibility of adding a trail system throughout Westchase. His key recommendation was to use composite decking (roughly 30% more expensive) since a large section would run through wetlands. Gillis chimed in that it might be time to get some input from the community. “There is a perception that people don’t want to spend money. That might be inaccurate,” he said, adding that it might be time for a follow up survey. Lewis asked Gillis to draft a survey to present at the June workshop.

District Counsel, Erin McCormick said that she, Lewis and District Manager Andy Mendenhall had met with Alan Ruiz and counsel from Vertex regarding the stalled cell tower project. Vertex was attempting to get a conjunctive release to move forward with construction while they dealt with legal action from Florida Gas. Vertex asked that someone from the district be on hand at an upcoming trial to speak to several issues regarding the tower. The board unanimously appointed Lewis.

Mendenhall began his Manager’s Report by addressing ongoing issues with Fieldstone Landscaping. Prior to the meeting, WOW obtained a letter from Fieldstone President Chris Eastman addressing concerns with the contract they signed with the Westchase CDD last fall. In the letter, Eastman admitted mistakes had been made on Fieldstone’s part and that they had not bid the job correctly to factor in costs for irrigation repairs. Fieldstone was therefore requesting an additional $6,000 per month beginning in June. Eastman said maintenance hours contracted were also off, but they were not requesting additional funds for that expense. Eastman added that his goal was to, “do whatever it takes to continue maintaining the community until October.” He said he would be out of town for the June 4 CDD meeting but would send staff in his stead. No one from Fieldstone was on hand for the meeting. Paul Woods with OLM, the district’s Landscape Management firm, was in attendance. He stated that Fieldstone failed their May inspection due to incomplete and inconsistent service and they were roughly 30-40 % understaffed for the job, with no indication of an effort to backfill positions.

“They need to be off this property. We need to make a demand for the damage already done and we need someone here as soon as possible,” Chesney said.

Woods clarified the contract has a 30-day termination clause. “We recognize this puts Westchase in a difficult spot,” Woods added. “We will discount our services 1/3 in the re-bid process.”

McCormick said that the board can enter into a short-term agreement during the RFP process.

Lewis made a motion to terminate Fieldstone’s contract with 30-day notice while allowing CDD staff to reach out to other partners with an amount not to exceed $65,000/month. That passed unanimously.

Sylvanowicz said he had reached out to Davey and they are willing to help.

Woods said the services not being rendered can be addressed with very targeted services using the money being withheld for Fieldstone’s failed May performance.

Chesney made a second motion to have McCormick put together a demand package to recoup costs from Fieldstone and a third motion to begin the RFP process. Both passed.

Moving on to the fiscal year 2025 Budget, Mendenhall noted the big outstanding item in the reserves related to roadwork and that costs have doubled since 2021. The draft budget sees assessments increasing between 6-13 %, which, he added, equates to less than $100 per person per year.

He added Saville Rowe is an outlier at 26% due to some past projects plus road reserves.

“In my review of the budget, I think we put in for the high water mark a 15% increase on the operating side across all homeowners,” Chesney said. “We’re going to have an increase in our landscaping budget. As the community ages, it requires larger projects. Historically, we haven’t raised our fees significantly and our fees are low comparatively.”

Chesney reminded the board that this is simply setting a high-water mark. The board agreed.  The public hearing for the budget and assessments is set for August 6, 2024, at 4 p.m.

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