CDD to Explore Creation of Community Garden

The surprise vote came at the conclusion of the Westchase CDD’s nearly three-hour May 7 meeting.

Supervisors of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) stalled on their adoption of a consistent street tree plan but voted unanimously, at Supervisor Brian Ross’ suggestion, to explore community uses for a CDD parcel located between Stonebridge and The Vineyards.

Among other possible uses, Ross stated the land could be used as a community vegetable garden, a district nursery, a garden used by students from Westchase Elementary or a gathering place for Scout activities. The first steps, Ross stated, were to resolve issues of access, power and water.

And while supervisors did vote unanimously to begin groundwork for exploring possible uses, CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated she should begin by contacting Hillsborough County Zoning to determine if the district would have to seek a change in the land’s designation.

Currently the parcel is zoned for the construction of 20 townhomes. When the developer who owned the land lost it to foreclosure, however, the district purchased the property to prevent its development and thus protect Stonebridge’s entrance gates.

The parcel previously prompted a lawsuit against the Westchase CDD by a developer who demanded the right to access through Stonebridge. The individual, however, failed to develop the property within the deadline outlined by the civil suit’s settlement. The land was subsequently purchased by another individual who lost it to foreclosure.

In recent years, supervisors have debated how to access the parcel without impacting Stonebridge, a gated neighborhood. They have discussed seeking access off Promise Lane (accessed from Sheldon Road), but that road is privately owned. They have also discussed building a boardwalk along the large lake beside Westchase Elementary to provide pedestrian access.

The meeting opened, however, with supervisors hearing from CDD Attorney Erin McCormick. She announced she had prepared a draft RFP with the district’s cell tower consultant to bid out the construction of a cell tower on district land but asked for direction on supervisors’ preferred look for the tower. After supervisors learned that the different approaches would impact the distance of service, they requested the chance to speak with their consultant at the May 21 CDD Workshop at 4 p.m. at the Maureen Gauzza Library before making a decision. McCormick also stated the consultant encouraged supervisors to consider expanding the RFP to a second site near the library to enhance service in its vicinity.

District Manager Andy Mendenhall stated that he had two responses to the district’s legal advertisement for an RFQ for engineering services, one from Stantec, the district’s current engineer, and another from a company that responded after Mendenhall brought the advertisement to their attention. Supervisors ultimately decided to postpone a decision in hopes of attracting greater interest by advertising the RFQ on a site where legal notices for government engineering jobs commonly appears and with the Florida Association of Special Districts.

After receiving guidance from CDD Attorney McCormick that they could legally proceed with a bid workaround, CDD supervisors sidestepped bidding out the district’s landscaping contract, now in its fifth year, by accepting a one-year contract extension and approving an addendum of services that would bring Davey Landscaping $49,600 in additional revenue in exchange for their staying on as the district’s landscaper.

Under Florida statute, supervisors must competitively bid out contracts above a certain dollar threshold. Contracts can be of a three year duration and can be extended three times for an additional year provided they entail no increase in costs. Davey, however, declined to renew the contract for the third year without some ability to increase its revenue. As a workaround, supervisors chose four areas of additional services they added to the contract to ensure Davey greater revenue. These include maintenance of two additional, recently acquired lakes; maintenance of the CVS, Applebee’s and Burger King plaza at the corner of Linebaugh and Sheldon; one additional flower planting and additional maintenance of the district’s maturing street trees. After next year, McCormick stated, the contract will have to be competitively bid.

Field Supervisor Doug Mays has previously indicated his belief that if they contract were bid this year, the district would pay at least $80,000 more than the current cost (before the approved addendum).

“I think we’re getting a good deal here,” said CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney. “I think there is a big advantage to our community to do this.”

Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the contract extension and the additional scope of services.

Supervisors then turned to review and a lengthy discussion about the district’s proposed street tree plan, which would lay out appropriate replacement trees in neighborhoods when trees fall, are damaged or have to be removed. Citing the lack of a district agreement with Hillsborough County for handling the street trees in non-gated communities where the count owns the rights of way, McCormick cited the governing documents of the Westchase Community Association (WCA) and stated, “It seems clear to me that tree removal and approval is the purview of the WCA.”

Supervisor Forrest Baumhover, who previously served as a WCA Board member and is a current alternate on the Modifications Committee (which reviews homeowner-requested changes to yards), stated the association declines to make decisions about street trees, leaving them to the district. Baumhover, who has previously advocated for homeowners’ rights to remove trees in front of their homes in the right of way, again questioned who owned the grassy strip between the sidewalk and road. McCormick again reiterated that there was no doubt the area is owned by Hillsborough County and not residents. Baumhover then questioned how the WCA could enforce rules in the area regarding any maintenance, such as a grass and mailboxes, if homeowners didn’t own it.

Supervisor Ross, however, stated that Westchase’s governing documents clearly make homeowners responsible for maintenance of the area while acknowledging the right of way is county-owned. He also read passages (Article XII, Section 6 and 16f) that he stated made clear that the WCA did have jurisdiction over street trees and questioned why McCormick simply didn’t approach the association, offer the district’s street tree plan, and ask them to adopt it. Ross argued this would also give enforcement more teeth, making homeowners subject to a fine if they didn’t comply with the plan. “I don’t think we’re ceding authority or granting authority,” he stated. “I think the WCA already has it. They’re just not enforcing it.”

Supervisor Chesney, however, cautioned that there could be different standards between the WCA and CDD. Baumhover added that, given the fact that the WCA did not have a street tree plan, homeowners could potentially replace them with any tree on the approved landscaping list.

While McCormick suggested it would be difficult to get Hillsborough County to agree to an interlocal agreement with the district that would grant them authority over street trees, Supervisor Chesney responded, “For the record, I don’t think it would be impossible to get an interlocal agreement with the county.”

Supervisors, however, changed topics before making any formal decision about whether to request WCA involvement, pursue a district-county interlocal agreement or resolve the confusion with a different option.

Field Supervisor Doug Mays concluded the discussion by observing they had received no county permits for street tree removal over the previous month.

Supervisors adjourned at 6:45 p.m.

In other actions:

District Manager Mendenhall confirmed that plans for transferring employee retirement plans to a 501K could not be done until the beginning of next calendar year.

District Manager Mendenhall stated that, due to a missed deadline for posting a draft budget on the district’s web site, the passage of a draft budget for the county’s Truth in Millage notices would have to be postponed to the district’s June meeting.

Field Supervisor Doug Mays stated he had forwarded pricing and information on nano-bubblers to address a polluted lake between MI Homes, Sturbridge and Stonebridge that was causing an infestation of midge flies. He stated the cost of the machines was $27,000 but the district would also have to run electrical lines to the lake. He encouraged supervisors to review the material for a future decision.

Supervisors heard complaints from a resident of the West Park Village apartments about a group of teens he charged with misbehaving and damaging CDD park areas on Montague Street. Supervisors directed Field Supervisor Mays to discuss options with the district’s off-duty deputy patrol.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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