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Friends' free water slide has its price: our privacy

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By MARLENE SOKOL, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002

June was here, soccer was over and the kids had good report cards.

Time for a trip to Heritage Harbor in Lutz.

We had a long-standing invitation from friends there to swim in their community pool, with the famous water slide.

They warned us, a bit sheepishly, that the pool might charge admission to visitors.

"I don't mind paying a few bucks," I assured them.

My friends called back, happy to report there was no charge for guests. We all agreed that would have been awkward.

I knew I'd have to stop at the community's entrance gate. A guard would ask: Who are you visiting? What is your name? He did not hear me at first, so I had to repeat this information.

It didn't occur to me to declare, "These are public streets and I don't have to tell you my name."

Water slide was all I cared about.

That's how it is in these self-contained neighborhoods -- whether in Lutz's Heritage Harbor or South Tampa's Culbreath Isles. You go where you're supposed to.

New communities wrestle with issues of access, of security, of how to protect their boundaries and make sure outsiders don't abuse their amenities.

Should they own and maintain their roads? Even that's no guarantee. Eddie Gomez was kidnapped in private, gated Cheval.

Should they keep the streets public, but make the parks private? That's how it works in Tampa Palms. There, you can drive around freely and it's easy to walk to Compton Park. But technically, you're supposed to live in Tampa Palms.

A reader tells of a neighbor who was hassled at Glencliff Park because she did not live in Westchase. Although it's in Westchase, Glencliff is a county park and anyone can use it. If you believe her story, one Westchase homeowner thought the park was theirs and theirs alone.

Those who don't have gates sometimes wish they did.

In west Carrollwood, backers of a county-funded community center came up against neighbors who worried about strangers and outsiders.

Even in nonexclusive Plantation, you need to sign in at the pool and enter with a key. Boys & Girls Club children used to swim there. But homeowners resented that arrangement, and it ended badly.

"Fortress America" is how author Mary Gail Snyder described this largely Californian practice of walling communities off from one another. She looked at unforeseen consequences -- including teenage crime within the gates.

But criticism is rare, and home buyers find the gates desirable. They deter wrongdoers, who would rather move around undetected. They add to the value of the homes inside.

We parked our car and admired our friends' new home. We greeted their neighbors, then headed for the pool.

The slide was spectacular as promised, whooshing us into the crisp, clear water. An elaborate fountain fascinated my son.

We kept running into people we knew: the kids' soccer coach, my daughter's former classmate, an old friend from PTA. We played water volleyball, munched Rice Krispies treats, got too much sun.

Was it worth giving up my name at the gate? Sure seemed that way.

As we left, the electronic arm was up for the car ahead of ours. My foot was on the gas, but the arm came down and I had to stop. It annoyed me. Then the arm went up again.

That's all it was, a momentary twinge of annoyance.

-- Marlene Sokol is Carrollwood bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times.

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