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City approves petition for private roads

The move would allow Westover homeowners to build an entry gate. Final approval is expected in two weeks.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002


TAMPA PALMS -- An entrance gate that Westover homeowners have envisioned for years might finally be as good as gold.

City Council members unanimously approved a petition by the Tampa Palms village to make their roads private so they can install an access gate at the entrance.

The move would transfer ownership of the public roads from the city to 61 private homeowners seeking additional security and increased property values.

"It's the first time it's ever happened in the history of the city, and it may actually pave the way" for others, said council member Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Palms resident himself.

Final approval by the City Council is expected at a second hearing in two weeks.

Developers originally designed Westover as a public neighborhood and did not install gates as they did in seven other Tampa Palms villages. To change that each Westover homeowner had to sign off on the plan and any subsequent costs it would entail.

Residents in neighboring Tampa Palms villages have monitored their progress, as they too contemplate gating.

"Other communities that have seriously looked into it are Canterbury and Huntington," said Bob Van Sickler, a voting representative with the Tampa Palms Owners Association.

Residents in Asbury, where Van Sickler lives, also have discussed the idea. "I bet you can find someone in every community who says, "We should do that,' " he said.

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 alley or a vacant lot that attracts vagrants and litter or poses a safety hazard. Others install sidewalks.

"We've been working on this project for about seven years now, more intensively the last 18 months," said Adina Dyer, a board member of the Westover homeowner association.

"We have about 97 children who actually prompted us to do this," she said. While conceding that an access gate is not a cure-all against crime, she said that parents are ready to do "anything that we can to help deter (it)."

In exchange for the right to put up a gate, the 61 homeowners would assume total responsibility for Londonderry Drive and Derry Way's maintenance, from paving and sweeping to upkeep of streetlights and sidewalks, taking the burden off city crews, said Harrison.

City police patrols and sewer and water service would continue.

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 some scattered property and ponds and pay the lease on its streetlights.

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

Westover residents are proposing a 6-foot cast-iron gate, call box and cameras. They are still working to configure construction costs and road widening work for the gates's installation. But street maintenance is not an immediate concern, city officials said.

"The good news for them is, the roadways were built recently in the New Tampa area, so they'll last for a while," said Mahdi Mansour, transportation engineer with the city of Tampa.

Critics of security gates say they breed elitism, while supporters say they build unity in a neighborhood and give its residents greater peace of mind. They also limit solicitors and nuisance calls.

"I really do not think there is a class distinction between people in gated communities and non-gated communities," Van Sickler said. "I guess there's a pride they (gated homeowners) feel, but I don't think it's, "We're better than you because we have a gate.' "

City council members applauded the community for following procedure and for its perseverance.

"You did it the right way," said chairman Charlie Miranda. "I commend all of you."

-- Staff writer Melia Bowie can be reached at bowie@sptimes.com or 269-5312.

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