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Whittling the wish list

Voting on proposals for improving Westchase was postponed as board members talked about paring down the project list.

By JOSH ZIMMER
Published May 9, 2003

WESTCHASE - Westchase, one of the area's premier communities, needs to spend big money to stay with the pack, community development district members said Tuesday.

But exactly how much should be invested, and on what projects, remains to be decided.

The boards of the Westchase and Westchase East CDDs, meeting jointly, did not vote on proposals to spend between $2.8- and $3.6-million. That money would pay for renovations and new construction throughout the 3,000-home community.

However, supervisors asked management to come back with better cost estimates on the individual projects.

Already the joint board is talking about limiting any new bond issue to $2.5-million, including maintenance and interest costs. That amounts to a severe paring down of the projects list.

Some ideas bore immense criticism during Tuesday's four-hour discussion, including a proposal to spend $500,000 on improved signage, lighting and landscaping.

"I don't see (doing) that," member Mark Ragusa said of standardizing more signs and monuments. "Everybody knows we're Westchase."

The business plan was prepared by Severn Trent Services, which manages Westchase and many other CDD communities. Seeing the plan released before the meeting angered board member David Love, but CDD manager James Ward explained that homeowners had requested the document. By law, CDDs are public entities.

The current plan would provide a facelift to some of Westchase's better-known facilities, such as Glencliff and Baybridge parks and the aging Radcliffe Bridge. Improved ball fields and amenities would go in. One proposal calls for an entirely new 4.25-acre park on land owned by TECO, controversial because of its high-tension wires.

"I would not care to see my kids play under (those wires)," said Steve Silvers, owner of the Kids R Kids Daycare on Westchase Drive.

Homeowners will take a hit in their pocketbook. With operations and maintenance costs factored in, they can expect to pay an additional $65 to $78 a year for $2.8-million to $3.6-million in improvements.

CDD supervisors might apply for grants to soften the blow, including $800,000 in matching funds from the state's Recreation Development Assistance Program. Under that scenario, the price tag would be $2.8-million. Ward suggested paying off the debt over 20 years.

"I can't see asking people to pay additional," resident Harriet Meier said. "Let's see what happens with the economy."

Here's a breakdown of the proposed projects and costs, to which Ward will provide more detail later on:

- Glencliff Park. Boardwalk renovations, ball field repairs and improvements to the parking lot and restrooms. Cost: $675,000.

- Baybridge Park. New sod, lighting and irrigation system, along with improved walkways and parking lot. Cost: $300,000.

- TECO Sports Compound. Site preparation, water fountains and portable fence, bases and backstop for a baseball field. Cost: $450,000.

- Radcliffe Bridge. Reconstruct bridge, with new landscaping. Cost: $150,000.

- Community and Neighborhood monuments. Upgrade colored lettering and landscaping at 87 structures. Cost: $500,000.

- Pedestrian tunnels. Install brick retaining walls and add vandal-resistant lighting and security cameras. Cost: $150,000.

- Other. Upgraded landscaping throughout the community. A new brick wall, trees and shrubs at the Swim and Tennis Center. Cost: $500,000.

The work would bring more of Westchase into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Members and homeowners alike questioned why the CDD needed to borrow so much money to uphold the community's high standards. Some wondered if they had spent too little in the past.

Chuck Adams, operations director for Severn Trent, said they could improve the life span of some facilities by using more composite materials.

Board member Bill Kemerer asked for a better accounting of the proposed operations and maintenance costs, which will be significant, he predicted.

"We can't spend $3-million now and fix a Mercedes with used Kia parts," he said.

- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone/Odessa, University North and Citrus Park. He can be reached at 269-5314 or zimmer@sptimes.com [Last modified May 8, 2003, 11:31:55]

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