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Westchase Golf Course Owner Pitches Perpetual Conservation Easement to CDD

The June 1 Westchase CDD meeting saw a very significant announcement about the future of the Westchase golf course.

The meeting, which Supervisor Forrest Baumhover missed due to vacation, saw Supervisor Greg Chesney announce that over the past six months he had worked with Westchase Golf Course Owner Nick Neubauer of Sano Corporation, along with their attorneys, to hammer out an agreement that would create a perpetual conservation easement over the Westchase Golf Course property. That easement, if approved by the district, would restrict its future use to a golf course or other recreational park and prevent the building of homes or apartment complexes on the land in perpetuity.

In early 2018, the Westchase CDD explored the outright purchase of the golf course from Neubauer but Neubauer, later that year, ultimately informed the district he wasn’t interested in selling. Chesney stated he had repeatedly met with Neubauer subsequently to discuss options and during the last year embraced the opportunity to pursue a conservation easement after Neubauer pitched it to him. “Through present day, we’ve had an ongoing conversation” said Chesney. “One of the things we’ve discussed is a conservation easement in perpetuity, that would keep it as a golf course or for other recreation.” Chesney emphasized that for tax reasons, district approval of the proposal faced a tight deadline of 60 days.

CDD Attorney Erin McCormick, who had circulated the proposed agreement earlier in the week, confirmed that, if adopted, it would take future development of the golf course off the table, regardless of who owned it. “It gives rights to the CDD as grantee,” she said. “It basically limits what the golf course owner can do with the property in the future.”

She added that while the course owner can update existing facilities and even the clubhouse, the agreement limited building heights to 35 feet and the amount of paved surface on the property. She stated the owner, as part of documenting the current environmental conditions of the property, will get certification from Audubon Sanctuary Program. The draft of the agreement also limits the golf course to having three possible dwelling units.

McCormick observed that there were tax advantages for Neubauer that would arise from the easement. Under the agreement, however, the district will be protected from legal and financial liability arising from its continued operation. The district’s sole financial commitment would be to annually review the inspection to ensure the owner is maintaining the course’s baseline environmental conditions. The agreement also gives the district recourse to the courts should the owner fail to comply with the easement’s requirements.

Neubauer has not requested any compensation from the district for the agreement.

“To me it sounds like a universal good that addresses a concern I hear,” said Supervisor Jim Wimsatt about worries about the golf course eventually being developed. “This sounds like it solves that problem in perpetuity.”

Addressing a supervisor’s question about the possibility of the district eventually purchasing the course (the district, as owner, would still have to comply with the conservation easement), Chesney responded, “There might be another time to purchase the golf course upon the settlement of [the owner’s] estate.” “Until then I do not see the golf course changing hands.”

Ultimately supervisors agreed to hold a workshop on Tuesday, June 15, at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center at 4 p.m. to allow concerned residents to ask questions and speak to the proposal before its likely approval by the board on July 6.

Supervisors then adopted a draft of their 2022 budget that sets a high-water mark for assessments for the coming year. Under the spending plan, all Westchase homeowners’ assessments would largely stay flat except for West Park Village and The Greens. West Park Village will see a decline after paying off the replacement of their street signs last year. District Manager Andy Mendenhall stated, however, that the district’s road reserves indicated that assessments covering future repaving of The Greens’ roads, owned by the district, were currently underfunded by $26,000 annually. In addition, costs associated with the Greens guardhouse were $16,000 higher this past year due to wage increases. To fully cover the costs, Mendenhall stated that Greens homes would see a CDD assessment increase of about $85, about 7 percent increase. While Mendenhall said that Greens reserves could be used to half the increase this year, he stated the district would ultimately have to raise assessments to the full amount the following year. Supervisors ultimately voted to keep the full $85 increase in the draft budget while maintaining the ability to lower it based on reactions to district letters that Greens homeowners will receive regarding the increase.

Addressing district efforts regarding a cell tower, CDD Chair Matt Lewis stated he was working with the Westchase Community Association’s Government Affairs Committee to arrange a meeting with County Commissioner Harry Cohen to seek his help with resolving county roadblocks to the district’s proposed cell tower in Glencliff Park.

Turning to supervisor requests, Supervisor Brian Ross requested Chair Lewis also discuss with Commissioner Cohen creative ways where the district might front money for the repair of Westchase sidewalks and then recoup funds as the county budgets for them.

A proposal by Supervisor Chesney to enhance the retirement plans for existing staff by making up for lower past payments by depositing a total of $72,000 into the four accounts, divided over two years, passed unanimously.

Concluding major action, Supervisor Greg Chesney proposed reviewing the district’s current street tree plan. “There’s been mild controversy in Westchase over our street tree program,” he said. Stating he wished to be clear, he added, “Trees increase the value of our community.”

Chesney ultimately made a motion the district hire an ISA certified arborist to review the street tree plan. When Office Manager Sonny Whyte pointed out that the Davey arborist who compiled the existing plan was ISA certified, Chesney responded, “I would like a second opinion.” He added, “We are pulling out too many mature trees and not putting back the right kind of trees.”

Supervisor Brian Ross emphasized that he did not think anyone with the CDD had ill intent, but staff had been motivated by making residents happy. He added, however, that he thought the existing tree plan had resulted in unintended consequences.

Supervisor Chesney added he felt it important to not hire an arborist associated with the district’s existing landscaping company or the engineer. “This policy we have is always a living document,” observed Supervisor Lewis, who later added he was going to propose something similar. “I think what Brian and you are saying is let’s take another look at it.”

The motion to hire an arborist for a review of the district’s tree plan passed 4-0.

In other actions:

Field Manager Mays stated he was working with the engineer on a plan to address creek bank erosion behind a home on Springrose Drive.

Supervisors learned that the turkey vulture contract with the USDA had been amended to remove the use of pellet guns and fireworks for controlling the birds, and would rely solely on effigies, reported to have 90 percent effectiveness. The contract’s cost was therefore reduced to $200 per quarter over the next year. Staff reported that due to seasonal migrations, the number of vultures had declined.

Attorney McCormick stated she was working with The Enclave association regarding the streetlights in that neighborhood. Currently owned by the CDD, the streetlights would be given to the association but the district would still continue assessing its residents for their maintenance, providing the funds to the HOA as needed.

Field Manager Mays stated that the gate operators on Saville Rowe’s gates required replacement at a cost of $6,100 and the neighborhood VM requested the district seal the neighborhood roads to extend their lives. Supervisors agreed to wait to hear back from their engineer regarding the benefit of resealing.

CDD Supervisors approved the Westchase Community Association’s use of the Montague Street green for their Movies in the Park, expected to begin in September or October.

Staff reported that a few teens were recently caught, thanks to the assistance of residents and cameras, after they vandalized the Glencliff Park restrooms three Fridays in a row. Staff reported they were working to ensure the parents of the teens paid the district for all repairs.

Supervisors tabled a request from a Village Green resident, whose home fronts the park there, to ban trucks, including delivery trucks, from using the alleys behind the homes due to damage they were causing to the homeowner’s irrigation system. Supervisors worried it would make it near impossible to deliver packages to the homes.

Supervisors approved staff’s request to purchase two picnic tables for the Village Green Park at an estimated cost of $2,500.

After a resident requested blinking lights at the crosswalk at the entrance to the Greens, supervisors authorized Field Supervisor Mays to cut back bushes in the area to enhance the visibility of the crosswalk as a first step.

Supervisors adjourned at 5:51 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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