HERITAGE HARBOUR — As Heritage Harbour South Community Development District Chairwoman Joyce Sandy wielded her pen Thursday, May 16, she couldn’t suppress a smile.
The end finally had come.
CDD supervisors, including Sandy, voted 4-0 to approve a settlement agreement with Stoneybrook Investors, owner of the Stoneybrook Golf Club, and ended a two-year legal dispute over assessments for stormwater management services.
“We are elated we were able to resolve both (the case with Stoneybrook and the case with Lighthouse Cove) in the last two months, and we can move on,” Sandy said as she signed settlement paperwork.
Supervisor Joseph Jaudon abstained from voting, because he is an employee of the golf course.
The CDD’s special counsel, John Harllee, said he used guidance supervisors provided during a recent shade meeting to negotiate the new settlement.
A new component to the agreement included a provision to allow the golf course to continue using an easement over and across a portion of the district’s property — Lake 33 — for driving range golf operations.
As part of the settlement, the CDD also agreed to pay Stoneybrook $5,000 and to give a representative of Stoneybrook a regular agenda opportunity to present concerns at regularly scheduled CDD meetings.
“Although Stoneybrook has the same rights as any other property owner to challenge future assessments, this right was specifically reserved in the settlement agreement at the request of Stoneybrook’s attorney,” Harllee said.
Stoneybrook attorney David Wilcox said changes on the CDD board, and with its legal counsel and district manager, also contributed to Stoneybrook’s willingness to settle.
“The page has been turned in the relationship between the board and Stoneybrook,” Wilcox said. “Each of those changes we look at as a positive thing.”
Wilcox said future litigation over stormwater assessments is possible, but Stoneybrook hopes to avoid it by working with the CDD over the summer, before the new fiscal year budget is adopted. Stoneybrook hopes to show the board the golf course’s value within the community and influence changes to the methodology used for assessments.
Stoneybrook first filed suit against the CDD in November 2011, at which time it questioned the legality of a special assessment for stormwater management services that had not previously been imposed on the golf course. The lawsuit also challenged the legality of the assessment methodology used, as well as the calculation of the assessment amount. Stoneybrook filed a second suit, which mirrored the original, in December 2012. A judge combined the lawsuits earlier this year.
CDD supervisors took no action on two potential settlement offers, following a closed meeting in April.
Stoneybrook Investors attorney David Wilcox did not return calls for comment by press time Tuesday.
CDD supervisors approved a similar settlement agreement with the Lighthouse Cove Homeowners Association, which also had challenged the district’s stormwater management assessments, in March.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
In other business:
• Supervisors led the audience in a moment of silence to honor former CDD supervisor and beloved resident, Rosalie Celio, who died May 15.
• Supervisors agreed to move forward with refinancing the district’s 2002 bonds. MBS Capital Markets will work to secure a credit rating and prepare other documents for presentation to the board in June.
MBS’s Brett Sealy said the refinance would result in about a 20% related cost reduction for residents in Stoneybrook and for the Stoneybrook Golf Club, who are affected by the 2002 bonds.
• Supervisors directed staff to develop a feasibility study to define the district’s assets and associated costs by January. The board will use the study to determine which, if any, assets it wishes to bring back under CDD management.
• Supervisors approved a preliminary 2013-2014 fiscal year operating budget of $437,998 and set a public adoption hearing for 6 p.m. Aug. 16, at the Comfort Inn, 66th Street Court E., Bradenton.
The budget can be reduced before the August meeting, but it cannot be increased.
• Supervisors voted 3-2 to hire Andy Cohen as the board’s new legal counsel. Supervisors Richard Lane and Lee Bettes spoke positively about Cohen’s performance as interim counsel, but said they wanted to see more process. Cohen’s hiring was not an agenda item.
• District Manager Greg Cox said the board’s engineer, Banks Engineering, was terminating its services. Supervisors voted 4-1 to hire Ron Schappacher as interim engineer.