Heritage Harbor gets guard patrol

Several efforts are under way to tighten security since residents began complaining about its accessibility.

COURTESY : St. Petersburg Times
Published July 25, 2004

LUTZ - Responding to requests from security-conscious homeowners, Lennar Corp. has agreed to pay for security guards at Heritage Harbor.

Speaking at a Community Development District meeting on Tuesday, Lennar communities manager Bill Kouwenhoven said the company would apply $36,000 toward the cost of a roving guard.

The money should last about six months, he said. At that point, Lennar hopes to start building a private-access gate off Lutz-Lake Fern Road. The developer also is taking steps to deed streets in that section over to the homeowners association, making them private.

Residents have asked for these measures because Heritage Harbor is not as restrictive as some thought it was when they bought their homes. A gatehouse sits at the entrance with a guard who questions visitors. But the streets are public, leaving the guard with little to no authority over who comes and goes.

In a meeting with residents earlier this month, the construction giant based in Miami suggested homeowners pay for patrols.

A similar issue is being played out in Heritage Isles, a comparable Lennar development in New Tampa. There, the Lennar-controlled CDD board on Wednesday also agreed to spend thousands more on security.

CDDs in these communities pay more than $200,000 combined so that security companies can post guards at the entrances.

Because the homeowners never purchased the roads, they legally are public.

But some homeowners say they did not realize the roads were public when they bought their houses. Some say the companies that sold them their homes described Heritage Harbor as a gated community.

As it turns out, said homeowner Steve Martin, "it's not really a gated community. It's a guarded community."

Despite the limits, homeowners continue to push an appearance of restrictiveness. Hiring roving security guards is part of that effort.

"It's psychological," said Michael Dougherty, a security guard with CIS, the Clearwater security firm hired by the Heritage Isles CDD. "The guard is an authority figure. If that intimidates people who are up to no good, that's great."

Such intimidation will cost Heritage Isles $157,000, a 50 percent increase over last year's community budget.

At Heritage Harbor, residents are angry at Lennar for delaying construction of the private-access gate. Homeowner Bonnie Kirstein said they have heard "three years of excuses."

After a Carrollwood resident complained about being denied access to a gated subdivision with public roads, Hillsborough County banned further gates unless the roads were privatized. Now, Lennar is trying to vacate several roads east of the current entrance so that it can build the private-access, homeowner-owned gate people want.

In the meantime, residents convinced they are vulnerable to crime are pushing for roving guards. They also want to toughen up procedures at the guardhouse.

During last week's meeting, Kirstein and other residents expressed frustration with Fox Protective Services Inc., which gets $80,000 from the CDD to man the gate. They said the company has been lax about gathering as much information as possible about visitors, whether that means asking why people are in Heritage Harbor to writing down a vehicle description and tag number.

Bruce Howie, legal panel chair for the Pinellas County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said guards shouldn't be asking nonresidents any questions at all. It's an infringement on people's rights, he said.

"They have the absolute right not to be stopped or questioned by a private security guard," he said. Unlike a police officer, "a private security guard has absolutely no authority at all. There's no reasonable governmental interest in determining where these people are going, whether it is to visit a friend, look at a house or anything else."

Kirstein and others disagree.

"It's a matter of principle," she said. "We were told this was a gated community. And we certainly pay the fees for it."

Although she described Heritage Harbor as "close to perfect," she also described vandalism at the pool, home burglaries and one mysterious incident involving a bullet lodged in the wall of one house.

She is organizing a group of residents to monitor the guards and make sure they are asking enough questions.

"If we frustrate a few people (at the gate), I have to weigh that," she said. "The community's safety comes out on top."