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Pine Ridge residents up in arms over builder

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published February 19, 2007


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HUDSON - In the evocatively named community of Pine Ridge at Sugar Creek, recent events have not been so sweet for residents.

Built at the height of Pasco's residential market boom nearly two years ago, homes at the development on State Road 52 used to sell for $300,000.

But when residents found out the developer sold some neighboring houses for $199,000 last month, they saw a telling signal - and it wasn't about sagging markets or buyer's remorse.

"They're dumping to get out," resident Rosalyn Fenton said.

Pine Ridge's residents suspect William Ryan Homes of Tampa is about to leave them holding the bag for a range of defects - a charge the developer denies.

Two weeks ago, the developer sent notices for a homeowners association meeting Feb. 27, spelling out its intention to pull its representatives off the board and replace them with residents.

But the residents don't want to own the association yet.

Instead, they want to know when their roads will be properly paved. They want their ponds to look like ponds. They want answers on what happened to tens of thousands of dollars in maintenance fees that the developer and its agents have not fully accounted for.

A representative of Pine Ridge's management agent said the turnover is required by documents governing its development, but William Ryan intends to make the repairs.

Trouble is, the residents have not seen any signs of the work or even a time line for these repairs.

'6-million questions'

The number of bird feeders at Pine Ridge speaks of a community blessed with nature's wealth, from sandhill cranes to red cardinals to generous stands of slash pine and cypresses.

The man-made stuff isn't quite as attractive.

Large tracts of sodden muck, strewn with dead shrubbery, lay exposed where ponds should be. Residents say the inlets are always clogged, and it isn't clear if the problem is design or maintenance or both.

The 260-home community's entrance sign, the legacy of a 20-year-old seniors-only development now joined with Pine Ridge, is fading and needs to be replaced with the community's new name, the Enclaves at Pine Ridge.

Large sections of the road are cracked, threadbare and need to be repaved.

For about two months, a white fence bordering the community has had a gaping, jagged hole in it.

Resolving the problems might cost a pretty penny, maybe $100,000 or more, residents say. They have no official estimate.

Before residents accept responsibility for the homeowners association, they want to know where their $80 monthly fees went.

In a budget prepared last year by Community Association Management Services of Tampa, William Ryan's management agents, $26,992 was earmarked for gate repair and monitoring and drain and landscape maintenance.

Leaving aside the dubious maintenance, residents point out that the community's ornate black gate is always open and the guardhouse at the entrance has never been manned.

"They take homeowners association fees, so there has to be accountability on that," resident John Funcheon said.

"There's got to be 6-million questions on this."

A lack of answers

Pine Ridge's covenant, the legal document that governs the community, says William Ryan can turn the association over to residents when 95 percent or more of it is built out.

Residents think William Ryan reached the threshold by fire-selling the last few homes for $199,000.

Now William Ryan needs two to three residents to replace its own representatives on the board.

Some residents think the developer is laying the groundwork to leave them with the big-ticket repairs.

"Don't stick us with something like that," resident Ailyn La Torre said.

They cannot get answers.

The residents can't reach William Ryan directly. All communication is funneled through Community Association Management Services, La Torre said.

Community Association told the Pasco Times that William Ryan intends to finish the work.

"The turnover meeting that is happening is based on what the covenant requires," said Kristen Clark of Community Association. "By no means is the developer completed with the project. ... They are working on the repairs."

But the residents have not seen any detailed expense reports for these repairs. When La Torre asked Community Association for them, she was told they could not be faxed and could be obtained only in person, which the residents have not done.

"Generally we don't fax those," Clark said, but she added, "The reports are available for review."

Barbara Wilhite, assistant county attorney, and John Peck, spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said their agencies have no role to play in what they characterized as a private dispute.

A looming showdown

For all these trials, it's not as if residents want to leave Pine Ridge. The residents say they love the community and its nooks of wildlife.

And not all think William Ryan is out to cash out and leave.

"I don't want to make any assumptions until we hear from them," Funcheon said.

But others aren't so sure.

"They really surprised us with this turnover meeting," La Torre said. "We were just expecting a meeting to address the (repair) issues."

The residents planned to meet this weekend to weigh their options. They might decide to boycott the Feb. 27 meeting, or try to get people they trust elected.

If the second option pans out, they will move to expand the board, hire a lawyer and call for a financial audit, Fenton said.

It's going to be two weeks of angst before the showdown, and even that might just be the beginning.

"We can sue them, but how do you enforce a judgment?" Fenton said. "It becomes difficult."

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 18, 2007, 22:12:55]


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