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Homeowners take gate campaign to council

Residents want to privatize the road into Westover so they can install a gate at the entrance.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002

TAMPA PALMS -- There are seven gated neighborhoods among Tampa Palms' 23 villages, and all of those gates were installed by developers.

This week Westover homeowners themselves will try to become gated.

For nearly three years neighbors have campaigned to privatize their road so they can install an access gate at the entrance of their neighborhood.

If successful, Westover will become the first community in Tampa to assume ownership of a road so it can erect such a barrier. Officials think it won't be the last.

"It's been a hot topic around here for a couple of years," said Jimmy Cook, supervisor of right of way mapping for the city of Tampa's land development office.

The petition, filed in August for a $400 fee, is slated to go before the City Council on Oct. 24.

Until now, homeowners asking the city to vacate public right of way have typically acquired only slivers of land, officials said.

Some do it to clean up and gate a nearby alleyway or a vacant lot that attracts vagrants and litter or poses a safety hazard. Others want to install sidewalks, said Cook.

Never has a fully built and occupied community sought to do what its developer did not in terms of gating.

Westover board members have declined to comment in recent weeks, saying they would do so after the City Council meeting. In the past, residents there said they wish to improve security and increase their property values.

Officials think the New Tampa neighborhood may be a model for others with similar concerns.

"Now that this one's come in I'm sure there will be a couple neighborhoods that follow suit," Cook added.

That is, if they're willing to go through the time and expense.

In exchange for the right to gate, Westover homeowners would assume total responsibility for Londonderry Drive and Derry Way's maintenance, from paving and sweeping to upkeep of streetlights and sidewalks.

City police patrols and sewer and water service would continue.

In the Sanctuary, a similar sized Tampa Palms community where residents have always owned the roads, the homeowner association has reserved about $100,000 to care for streets.

"It's a lot of responsibility," said Mahdi Mansour, transportation engineer with the city of Tampa. "In the past 13 years I have not really seen a proposal where people were interested in turning their road from public to private" for this purpose.

Any requests to do so have been few and far between and no one has followed through with it until now, Mansour said, stressing that once the city vacates the street it belongs entirely to the property owner.

In this case, 61 property owners. Each would acquire a portion of the right of way and each one had to sign off on the endeavor in order for it to go forward.

Going for the gate

By Tampa Palms standards, Westover is a modest community built more than a decade ago with well-kept lawns, stucco homes and lots of of families.

In order to become gated, residents first had to form a homeowner association. They also hired an attorney to assist them in dealings with various government agencies.

Earlier this month, Tampa Palms community development district supervisors approved a resolution giving up the district's rights to Westover's streets.

However, the development district will continue to maintain ponds and some scattered property and pay the lease on its streetlights.

"We've said all along we'll do it," said district chairman Mark Fitzpatrick on Oct. 9. in giving his approval to the gate initiative. "I think it's a great idea; it benefits the whole community."

Only supervisor Mark Hensleigh voted no, saying he disapproved of using public funds for maintenance in Westover if the neighborhood were to become private.

Taxing district attorneys said the streetlight money and any ongoing maintenance would have public benefits that greatly outweigh any private benefit Westover would receive.

Other potential roadblocks were eliminated when Westover opted to privatize instead of trying to erect a gate on a public road, circumventing the past year's controversy in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

In August, the county commission did away with its policy permitting gates on public roads after complaints from an angry resident who was turned away at a guardhouse. But the county does allow communities to purchase their own roads in order to make them private.

That's just what Westover is proposing.

"It's been a long process but it looks like it's coming to an end," said Maggie Wilson, a member of Tampa Palms' residential modifications committee, which approved the 6-foot iron gate's design.

"Getting 100 percent agreement on this, it's tough," she said. "Sixty-one separate families had to agree on things. It really does solidify a neighborhood in a way little else could. It's really a miracle that it got done."

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