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Westchase CDD Supervisors Again Debate Golf Course Conservation Easement

While handling routine administration matters at their Sept. 14 meeting, Westchase CDD Supervisors again debated a conservation easement offered by the Westchase Golf Course owner

That debate shows the board is currently split down the middle regarding its adoption.

Opening the meeting, supervisors approved a six-month extension of their agreement with Vertex to construct a new cell tower on district-owned land behind the Maureen Gauzza Library. Vertex reported to WCA Attorney Erin McCormick that it had a cellular phone company interested in renting a spot on the tower, allowing them to move forward with the county approval process for that project.

McCormick reported that CDD Chair Matt Lewis and she had a conversation with Hillsborough County’s deputy administrator about a proposed cell tower off the southern parking lot of Glencliff Park. “He seemed receptive to the cell tower,” she reported, adding that they had provided the county with the history of the project, the district’s repeated seeking of resident feedback about it in WOW, and its support from homeowners, including the blessing of the Westchase Community Association (WCA). The association recently expressed support of the tower to county staff, who were holding up the project due to a small number of residents in opposition. “He’s taking all of that information and reviewing it,” McCormick said.

Lewis added his public thanks to WCA President Shawn Yesner and Government Affairs Committee Chair Eric Holt for contacting the county to communicate the association’s support.

McCormick then turned to the golf course easement, offered to the district a few months ago by Westchase Golf Course owner Nick Neubauer. Neubauer pitched the perpetual conservation easement, described as taking future development of the golf course off the table, in return for a tax break for the owner. The district, in turn, would monitor the course’s compliance with the agreement. That agreement, however, permitted future recreational uses of the course should it stop functioning as a golf course. If adopted, the proposed perpetual easement would bind all future owners of the golf course land.

After Supervisor Brian Ross raised significant concerns about the proposed agreement last month, McCormick stated she sent a proposed red-line of amendments to Neubauer, encompassing some of Ross’ proposed amendments, with most simply intended as clarifications. “We have not gotten a definitive answer from the golf course owner about whether he will accept the proposed changes.”

Supervisor Greg Chesney, who has negotiated the agreement with Neubauer, stated Neubauer was exploring different options with other organizations who might be willing to monitor the golf course’s compliance with the conservation easement.

Ross reiterated his opposition. “I think it’s a horrible document,” he stated. Ross argued that provisions of the agreement, which would permit some future development with limits, offered district approval to possible development of the course should the easement be lost or overturned. Ross argued it would undermine the district’s ability to protest future development if it should occur. Chesney, however, described the limited development provisions in the document as simply permitting changes to the course to keep it a going concern.

When he asked Chesney why he would support the possibility of opening the course to development, Chesney responded, “I strongly disagree that it opens the door to development. I think it strongly closes the door to development.” Chesney also pointed out that, absent current zoning restrictions which can be changed, the owner already has development rights to the land. These, he argued, he’s giving up in return for a tax break with the easement.

While Supervisor Forrest Baumhover described himself as somewhere between the positions staked out by Ross and Chesney and Lewis stated he was undecided, Supervisor Jim Wimsatt, who like Ross is an attorney, stated, “I litigate agreements for a living.” Stating he meant no disrespect, he added, “I just couldn’t disagree with Brian more on this.” Wimsatt then read from page 14 of the document, which stated its goal was for maximum protection of conservation values and, in the case of disagreements between parties, greater emphasis would be given to conservation values. In absence of the district outright buying the golf course, Wimsatt stated, “This is the second best option.”

Wimsatt also took issue with Ross’ suggestion the perpetual easement could somehow be vacated in the future.

In the past, Wimsatt’s take on the document has been echoed by CDD Attorney McCormick. Ross, however, reiterated his opposition, stating the district should do nothing that potentially undermines the expectations of Westchase homeowners along the course that the land would be used for anything but a golf course. “If I were talking to my client, I would say you’re dead wrong,” he said to Wimsatt, arguing the board should let a third party make the agreement with the course owner. “I think our counsel is taking a wrong analysis. I think you’re making a wrong analysis.”

Ultimately supervisors took no further action, instead awaiting Nuebauer’s response to their requested amendments.

In other actions:

Supervisors unanimously approved the use agreement for Glencliff Park with the Westchase Soccer Association for its spring season.

Supervisors approved their meeting schedule for the next fiscal year.

Supervisors gave District Manager Andy Mendenhall the go ahead to renew the district’s healthcare insurance policy with a 10 percent increase.

Supervisors approved salary increases of three percent for upper staff and 10 percent for other employees but reduced bonuses to $1,500 for upper level staff and $1,000 for others.

Supervisors approved a bid for $17,450 to clean out and widen a district-owned creek bank that regularly floods a Bennington homeowner’s property.

Supervisors approved staff’s suggestion that they approach Hillsborough County with an offer to fund $5,000 in sidewalk repairs for county-owned sidewalks that are in particularly bad or impassable condition on thoroughfares.

Supervisors approved a bonus of $500 and two days off for any district employee that gets a Covid-19 vaccine.

Supervisors adjourned at 5:08 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

 

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