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Church fees to be discussed at association meeting

Members of a homeowners association will decide whether to exempt St. James United Methodist from dues and absorb the $5,000 the church owes.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


TAMPA PALMS -- A Tampa Palms homeowners association will meet this month to determine who should pay $5,000 in back fees owed by a local church.

At the April 19 meeting, Lennar Homes, which controls the North Tampa Palms Homeowners Association, will ask its approximately 400 members how it should collect the money owed by St. James United Methodist Church.

Pastor Brian James said the church, which does not pay ad valorem property tax, was under the impression that it was not subject to monthly fees collected to pay for landscaping and infrastructure in Tampa Palms Area 4. The church owns five acres between Bruce B. Downs and Tampa Palms Boulevard.

"They (the association) could choose to exempt organizations that do not pay ad valorem tax," James said. "No other churches in the homeowners association pay dues. We don't get any benefit."

Robert Ahrens, president of Lennar Homes, said the church has a driveway that cuts through Mayfair, a neighborhood in Area 4, and that the fees pay for street lights and landscaping near that driveway.

"If the church was just exiting on Bruce B. Downs, this was an easy decision," said Ahrens. "But since they are using facilities, we just need to make sure that everyone feels comfortable that they don't pay."

Ahrens said if the homeowners decide the church is exempt, the homeowners will have to come up with the back money and also absorb the $20 to $25 a month in future dues.

Lennar is still selling lots in Area 4 and Area 8. When the majority of the area is occupied by residents, the developer will turn the homeowners association over to them, and they will be stuck with the bill.

"Of course, they (the church) don't think they should (pay)," Ahrens said, "and their easy solution is Lennar should do it. If I waive them, someone picks up the difference."

The church, which has owned the property for five years, has posted a note on its Web site asking residents in Ashington, Heathrow, Windsor, Remington and Mayfair to come to the meeting and vote against making the church pay the fees.

James said his parish is prepared to accept the results of the meeting.

"We don't have a problem with Lennar," he said. "We have a difference of opinion. If people want to escalate this and make this a big issue, we don't want to go there. We are willing to abide by what the outcome is here."

-- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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