Builders skimped, residents say

A confrontation is brewing in Country Walk

COURTESY : St. Petersburg Times
Published June 8, 2007

DADE CITY - A confrontation is brewing between the residents and builders of Country Walk, a 490-acre community in Wesley Chapel.

They went before the county's top staff planners Thursday with a quarrel over their recreation complex, but nothing got resolved.

Here's what went wrong:

In March, the year-old community at Smith Road and State Road 54 got an array of amenities, including a fitness center and two swimming pools.

But residents were expecting more: What happened to the gazebo and boardwalk? The beach volleyball court? The tennis court pavilion? Why was the clubhouse smaller than on the plans?

"When we were sold our homes, it was based on this site plan, " said resident Nina Siegel, backed by 97 signatures on a petition. "Where did the money go? We have paid dearly for that."

We're broke, said representatives of Country Walk's builder-controlled community development district, which takes care of building its amenities.

The money went into all the new facilities, said Robert Sprinkle, the engineer representing Country Walk. The other amenities are too expensive or unnecessary, he said.

But, at the Development Review Committee on Thursday, neither he nor his associates could say how much they've spent so far. They didn't know how much the unbuilt amenities might cost, either.

All they wanted was for the county to let them put these amenities into a "Phase B." They didn't want a deadline for building Phase B. They didn't want to post a bond to guarantee building Phase B.

This all could be sorted out when control of the community development district shifts from the builders - Standard Pacific, Cardel and Parkview Homes - to residents.

Trouble is, Siegel said, that transition happens only when the community is 90 percent occupied. Planned for 890 homes, Country Walk has only about 200 so far.

Interesting case, but not our business, county officials said.

County Administrator John Gallagher said that he was not inclined to get involved in a private legal dispute. So Sprinkle withdrew his case.

Siegel said she would discuss the next move with her neighbors.

And budget director Mike Nurrenbrock, who sits on the county committee, got the last word in.

The builders could easily incur more debt to fulfill their promises, he said. But they won't.

"They don't want to add anything to their operating expenses, " he said.