New Tampa residents protest over services

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times



Published October 23, 2007

Residents of Live Oak Preserve warn potential new buyers outside an Engle Homes open house Sunday of a series of complaints they have about the developer. Some of the issues include problems with the New Tampa development's Internet and cable system, and gate security.


NEW TAMPA - Home shoppers who ventured Sunday into the Live Oak Preserve found a mixed message: In the sales centers, they were invited to buy homes. On the street corner, residents warned them not to.

"I've been waiting for this ever since I moved out here," said Roger Rosario, who held up a sign saying "Beware, they'll fill your head with empty promises."

Rosario and some 20 neighbors who protested described a raft of complaints, from lax security to a subpar cable and Internet system they paid for with homeowner fees.

Engle Homes, which controls the master homeowner association, is launching the second phase of Live Oak, a planned 1,599-home development along the south side of the Hillsborough-Pasco county line.

An Engle representative on Sunday ordered a St. Petersburg Times reporter seeking comment away from the company's sales center.

Last week, the company's Tampa division president, Joe Hennessy, said "some more communication needs to happen between the management company and the residents."

Live Oak was launched in 2003 by builder Transeastern Homes. Sales escalated for two years, driven by investors. Then, in 2005, buyers began backing off and construction was stopped at the halfway point.

Just before the housing market turned cold, Transeastern was sold to Tousa Inc. of Coral Springs. Lenders began backing away from the deal within a year, Tousa's stock price plunged and stockholders sued. Tousa settled everything last summer through a huge refinancing.

Amid the turmoil, Transeastern finished last among 19 Tampa Bay area builders last year in an annual consumer satisfaction survey. On Aug. 1, it was folded into Engle, another Tousa subsidiary.

Hennessy said Engle is working on the residents' complaints, installing upgraded security and hiring a different guard service. It's also exploring how to change the cable service, he said.

But the protesters said they have been hearing that for too long. "We're really forced to do something to get their attention," said resident Betsy Hubbard.