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Couple cry foul on park promises

They say lots are now planned on an acre pledged as a park in Woods of Forest Lakes. The builder says they got the amenities they were promised.

By ED QUIOCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


They say lots are now planned on an acre pledged as a park in Woods of Forest Lakes. The builder says they got the amenities they were promised.

OLDSMAR -- City officials this week delayed the second phase of the Woods of Forest Lakes after two homeowners filed a lawsuit saying the developer and home builder are planning to build on an acre previously reserved as a waterfront park.

Michael and Karen Manning Tuesday filed a petition for a temporary injunction in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court to stop developer John R. Christie of Texas and Rottlund Homes from carving the acre into lots for sale at the Woods of Forest Lakes.

The lawsuit was filed hours before City Council members were scheduled to discuss allowing city staff to continue reviewing the proposed plat for the second phase of the subdivision.

Instead, after being notified of the lawsuit, which lists the city as one of the defendants, council members unanimously voted to postpone the discussion.

Mayor Jerry Beverland told Rottlund Homes representatives to meet with the Mannings and their attorney to "see if they can work this out and bring it back to another council meeting when they have worked it out."

Karen Manning said Thursday that homeowners were misled when they bought their lots. She said they were promised that the neighborhood would have two parks: one in the first phase and another in the back of the second phase next to a retention pond.

"There was supposed to be a 1-acre park beside the lake," Mrs. Manning said. "It was shown on the plat. It was shown to us when we purchased our lot. There were pictures of it at the model home . . . and the sales representatives told wonderful stories about it."

Nathan Hightower, an attorney representing Rottlund Homes, said homeowners were not misled.

"We absolutely dispute that assertion," Hightower said. "They have the amenities they were told they would have."

Noting that the two-page lawsuit lists the Mannings as the only plaintiffs, Hightower described the filing as a "personal agenda."

"I think Rottlund Homes has a real good record of sitting down with people and trying to bend over backward to accommodate those people," Hightower said.

Mrs. Manning said there are other homeowners who plan to join the lawsuit, but the couple had to get one filed quickly to stop the city's review process.

If negotiations fail, "we will come back with an amended complaint that will be more like a class-action suit" that may include charges of fraud and misrepresentation, she said.

"We tried to do it every way possible to avoid involving the courts, but they specifically directed us to this course so that's the course we are taking," she said.

Mrs. Manning said that before she and her husband bought their lot, they were shown pictures of two parks with the larger one having a tennis court, cabana and covered pavilion next to the water. What residents got was only one park, which was smaller than expected.

In January, a handful of residents took their complaints to the council, which voted unanimously to require an additional 7,000 square feet for recreation to meet the city's regulations on parkland space.

The neighborhood has been approved for 153 lots.

A Rottlund executive told council members then that he would be willing to add an adjacent lot to the existing park to meet that requirement.

But Mrs. Manning said residents want what was promised -- a waterfront park.

"It's more of a moral issue to me because they will just continue riding roughshod over people unless people stand up and say, "You can't do this,' " she said.

-- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or quioco@sptimes.com.

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