CDD Opts for New Engineer; Approves RFP for Two Westchase Cell Towers

The July 2 meeting of the Westchase CDD saw supervisors select a new engineering firm and approve bid documents for two new cell towers on the western side of Westchase.

Opening the meeting, supervisors heard from Bennington resident Linda Connolly, who expressed concern that two more palm trees were recently installed along the roadside in her neighborhood. Citing the recently approved street tree plan that allows existing street trees between sidewalks and the road in Bennington to be replaced with four options, two of which are palms, Connolly stated, “Bennington seems to be singled out.”

Connolly stated that street tree plan allows no other neighborhood originally planted in shade trees such as oaks and elms to now incorporate palms – although CDD Field Manager Doug Mays suggested the same was true for The Greens, where the developer began with a greater variety of street trees than in Bennington.

Mays, however, stated that when he began working as Westchase’s Field Manager 14 years ago, a number of palms already existed in Bennington. Connolly, however, stated that she has an original owner who has lived in Bennington for 24 years. She stated that if palms had been planted, residents had done so on their own as they were not in keeping with the developer’s original street trees, which she stated consisted only of oaks and elms.

Connolly added that she was not a fan of the elms, which Mays stated often start leaning, and suggested crepe myrtles be used in place of palms, which she stated represented a fair compromise.

Supervisors thanked Connolly for her feedback and asked Mays to consult with the arborist who developed the plan to perhaps revisit the Bennington decision to determine if an error was made. They stated they would likely follow the arborist’s suggestion, and encouraged Connolly to discuss the matter with Mays prior to any potential plan change coming back to the board for approval.

Following up on the tree plan, WOW’s reporter also asked a question on behalf of a Kingsford resident who asked if the district planned to pull recently planted palm trees there now that palms are not part of Kingsford’s street tree plan. After discussion, supervisors asked Mays to provide them with a count of trees replaced in the community in the last year and the cost for replacing them so they could decide how to handle the matter.

Mays stated that CDD Office Manager Sonny Whyte and he had also attended a recent WCA meeting where association leaders made clear their desire to work with supervisors on incorporating a street tree plan. He added that having the HOA concurrently adopt it would allow a better enforcement mechanism should homeowners change the trees without CDD permission.

CDD Attorney Erin McCormick also stated that she had put her effort to establish a community-wide permitting process from Hillsborough County that incorporated the CDD’s tree plan. She agreed, after encouragement from Supervisor Greg Chesney, to move forward with finalizing that agreement.

McCormick then walked supervisors through final changes made to the RFP and cell tower contract that the district will put out to seek bids for two separate cell towers to improve cell service on the western side of the district. The first would be located in the back of the south parking lot in Glencliff Park. A second would be located on CDD-owned land behind the Maureen Gauzza Public Library.

Supervisors briefly discussed how to weigh potential bids and ultimately agreed to swap weights given to leasing revenue from the bids and the towers’ aesthetic appearances. Given that supervisors expressed concern that interior-mounted antennae inside monopoles reduce a tower’s performance, the RFP does not dictate the appearance of the towers. The document, however, includes as one of its eight goals, “to use a less visually obstructive tower.”

Supervisors unanimously voted to approve McCormick sending the document out to potential bidders.

Supervisors then discussed the ranking of bids they received from their RFP for engineering services. An initial straw poll made clear that the top two preferences among board members were Lighthouse Engineering, a smaller engineering firm, and JMT, a larger firm. While there appeared a pretty equal split among supervisors regarding support for either company, an initial motion to rank the five responding bidders in the order of (1) Lighthouse, (2) JMT and (3) Stantec, the district’s current engineer, that motion failed 2-3. A substitute motion ranking them (1) JMT, (2) Lighthouse and (3) Stantec passed unanimously. Supervisors appeared to be attracted to JMT’s greater in-house services, its depth of experience working with SFTMD, whose permits cover most of Westchase’s ponds, and District Manager Andy Mendenhall’s greater past experience with the company.

Supervisors and District Manager Andy Mendenhall briefly discussed some corrections to the draft budget, which Mendenhall stated would be ready for supervisors’ approval at their August public budget meeting. The draft budget currently calls for no increases to the district’s assessments of homeowners.

District Manager Doug Mays stated he had explored options for running electricity to power nanobubblers to improve the health of the large lake adjacent to Stockbridge and Sturbridge. Ultimately an electrician suggested first running electricity to the district owned land lying between Stockbridge and The Vineyards and off Promise Lane. Mays stated this would enable the district to prepare the parcel for use as a potential nursery and community garden while also serving as a location to bring power to the large lake. Supervisors approved the expenditure 5-0.

Supervisors also unanimously approved a motion to bring fencing proposals for the Promise Lane parcel for consideration at their August meeting, subject to their attorney’s review.

CDD Office Manager Sonny Whyte stated that a resident requested the district consider the construction of a basketball court on the east side of Westchase. Whyte mentioned that the resident suggested using the grassy area of Baybridge Park but supervisors have previously rejected that location. When WOW inquired whether the district could pay to construct a court on land owned by the county’s Westchase Recreation Center, CDD Lawyer Erin McCormick stated it would be permissible as it is public land. Supervisor Chesney stated he supported exploring the matter and the reporter pointed out that McCormick should first speak to Rec Center Director Vince Bowers to determine if any land was available to fit it. (The Rec Center has indoor basketball courts that are open at various times.)

Supervisor Brian Ross asked District Manager Mendenhall to reach out to Stantec, the district’s current engineering firm, to ensure the transfer of district documents to the new engineering firm. He added his praise to district staff for handling the complicated matters surrounding the engineering and cell tower bids.

Ross’ remarks triggered other supervisors to echo his praise, with Supervisor Greg Chesney additionally praising his fellow board members. Citing their varied professional backgrounds, Chesney said, “The current mix of board members is awesome. All you guys do a great job.”

Supervisors adjourned at 6:08 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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