tampabay.com

Residents want one big Meadow

Leaders of two Meadow Pointe sections get an earful about plans to limit access to facilities.

By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published May 18, 2007


WESLEY CHAPEL - The meeting was to start in a few minutes. It was Wednesday evening and a group of mothers gathered in front of the Meadow Pointe II community center, ready for a fight. They buzzed with the rumor that someone, they weren't quite sure who, was going to ask for the chairman's resignation.

Evy Schwartz, one of their leaders, strode quickly to them.

"It could get ugly in there, y'all," she said.

"Sweet," one of them said.

"Let's go," Schwartz said.

- - -

It might sound familiar to some, foreign to others, but here's what's happening at Meadow Pointe, the mammoth development in Wesley Chapel:

When Meadow Pointe was created, it was not as one huge neighborhood. It was designed as four separate mini-cities with governing boards assigned to each. As the sections were built, developers sat on the boards (called community development districts, or CDDs) until the areas were established, elections could be held and the boards totally resident-run. Each section has its own budget and, thus, the frills from that -community centers, playgrounds, tennis courts, pools, etc. Residents have always used whatever facility they wanted to, regardless of their address. The playgrounds have been popular meeting areas for moms groups.

Until recently.

Which leads us to the fight.

At some point some months back, an argument brewed between the leaders of MPI and MPII, which had just spent $1-million revamping its community center with a new fitness area. MPI was going to pay for some of it but was not allowed to do so by state law. In trying to ensure MPII residents - the ones who paid for the center - could get first dibs on a treadmill, MPII leaders decided to allow only their residents access to the gym. MPI reacted by sending a notice that they were ending their 10-year reciprocal use agreement with MPII.

Then the rumor went out that MPII barred all MPI residents from their facilities.

Outrage followed.

"Our children are being punished for their silliness," Schwartz said angrily.

Jerry Lynn, chairman of MPII, said things have gotten misconstrued. Yes, the gym is for MPII residents only. Yes, all MPII residents must get photo IDs taken to gain access to the facilities.

But non-MPII residents can still use the playground. They just have to have a MPII resident with them when they do it.

"We're not locking anybody out," Lynn said.

To the moms of Meadow Pointe, that just won't do.

- - -

More than 60 people crammed into the MPII board meeting Wednesday. It was standing room only. Lynn, the man facing their wrath, sat in the middle of a long table, flanked by his staff.

The mothers took to the lectern. Some of their voices trembled. They talked of how much they love living here, how they moved here because of the family-friendly community - and how barring people from spending time with each other goes against that.

Applause was loud but not raucous, until Schwartz spoke. "Enough is enough," she said in a clear voice. "All the boards need to start working together to create the community we residents want."

This is when the cheers, thundering claps, gavel-pounding and heckling began.

"What part of community does the board not understand?" said a man from MPII, who also called the board members shortsighted and self-interested.

Board member Harold Ziegler called him on that. "What do you mean by self-interest? Like we have something to gain?" he said.

A woman shouted from the back: "Power trip!"

"We have no ax to grind," Ziegler said.

This went on for more than an hour (though the mysterious person who was going to ask for Lynn's resignation never showed). Board members said they've been discussing this issue for months. But no one came to the meetings - until after their decision had been made.

Flashes of light popped intermittently through a panel of frosted glass behind the board's table. In a room next door, MPII residents lined up to get their photo ID cards taken.

"You say we aren't working together. But we ARE working together," Lynn said.

From the back: "Just play nice!"

Lynn banged his gavel.

The board took a short break. Most of the mothers left, believing the issue would be discussed again at the next meeting June 6.

And it might be. But the lock is still being installed on the playground gate on June 1, as planned, Lynn said. He said it's for children's safety more than anything else.

"We've told them for months and months this is coming," Lynn said. "They just don't hear."