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Tensions rise from school's use of park

Parking at Independent Day School's baseball games violates the school's lease to use the Original Carrollwood Park, residents say.

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- When the Independent Day School Warriors play baseball games at the Original Carrollwood Park, residents complain they are blocked out of the community's recreation center.

They say IDS players and people from the visiting teams will park their vehicles at the recreation center and on the grass along Orange Grove Drive.

"I have written letters and called the school repeatedly asking them to stop doing this, but I've gotten no response," said Chuck Kim, who manages the community's recreation center.

The private school has a lease with Original Carrollwood to use the park for ball games and practice. But the lease prohibits any parking near the park. IDS players and the visiting team are supposed to park vehicles at the school and walk to the ballfield.

The five-year lease expires in November, and school officials have until May 17 to ask for a renewal. Members of the community's special tax board will consider the parking problems and other issues when making that decision.

"We have had multiple problems with our lease with IDS," said Becky Hanley, a member of the Carrollwood Recreation District.

Neither headmaster Joyce Swarzman nor IDS board chair Cornelia Corbett returned messages last week seeking comment, making it unclear what the school will look for or agree to at renewal time.

The lease does not involve a monthly payment. Instead, IDS compensates the community through improvements and maintenance.

Five years ago, IDS agreed to install the baseball field, the backstop, an irrigation system, a well and provide clay and grass for the ballfield.

The work at the 8-acre park cost the school between $10,000 and $15,000, Kim said.

Kim said the lease gives IDS exclusive use of the park for its games and allows the varsity baseball team to practice there weekdays between 3 and 6 p.m. from Feb. 24 to May 15. However, the school is responsible for maintaining the ballfield year-round.

"They have also ignored our requests to maintain the park," Kim said. "It got really bad. So bad we had to pay our groundskeeper to do it."

In recent years, a tense relationship has developed between homeowners and the school.

Carrollwood Civic Association and neighbors who live near IDS on Orange Grove Drive have complained about road congestion around the school at drop-off and pick-up times. They've accused the school of breaking its promise to build an attractive middle school campus, and they vigorously fought the school in rezoning a strip of residential property now used for school parking.

But that relationship took a new turn late last year when IDS bought a house in the neighborhood, giving it a right to use the community's private recreational facilities -- including the ball field.

IDS paid $170,000 in December for a 2,600-square-foot house at 11729 Phoenix Circle, thereby gaining a legal foothold in the community.

In a previous interview, Corbett said the school is renting the house to two teachers who live there. As residents, the teachers have been issued a key to the private facilities. They can invite up to 25 guests to the park, the recreation center or the private beaches.

Still, they'll have to follow the rules or risk losing the key.

"It's a privilege to use these facilities, not a right," Kim said. "The privilege can be revoked by the (recreation district) board if they break the rules."

Bob Johnston, president of Carrollwood Recreation District, said the board has not yet discussed the lease agreement with IDS and he declined to say how he stands on the issue.

But according to Hanley and Kim, IDS has violated the current lease in more ways than with their parking and lack of maintenance.

"Almost every ball game, they leave the park gate open," Hanley said. She also said the school is "irrigating the ballfield at improper times," which could get the community in trouble with Swiftmud.

Hanley said she will not support renewing the IDS lease.

"If their lease were not renewed it would have nothing to do with the new real estate purchase," she said. "Only violations of the lease terms."

"The one home they've bought only gives them one vote and there are about 930 homes in the neighborhood," Hanley said. "I don't think they offer any threat."

-- Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at grant@sptimes.com.

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