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East County Tuesday, May 3, 2022 1 month ago

Edgewater residents push back against destruction of underused dock

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The Country Club/Edgewater Village Association votes to demolish the Lake Uihlein dock in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Although he might be the last registered user at Lake Uihlein's boat ramp who uses the adjoining dock, Charles Haeussner hopes his homeowners association reconsiders its decision to demolish the dock.

Haeussner and his wife, Carol, purchased their home in 2002 and said future Edgewater homeowners are likely to find the dock to be an important amenity. The Haeussners use both the ramp and dock, which was built in 2004, twice a year to launch and remove their sailboat from the lake when they arrive from their other home in Pittsburgh. They then move their boat to their personal dock for their time at their Lakewood Ranch home.

Charles Haeussner said that at one time, there were three other homeowners who sailed on the lake and utilized the ramp/dock but that those residents have stopped sailing as they have grown older.

He said more homeowners would use the ramp and dock if they knew they could. 

“Nobody uses it because nobody really knows about it,” he said, noting that the community's residents only need to obtain an access key at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

The dock set to be destroyed stands across from Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

He said the ramp and dock sit separately from the subdivision and are located on a road behind a padlocked gate off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard just north of Main Street. However, it is there for the use of his community, as well as all of phase one of Lakewood Ranch.

That point could be moot if the Country Club/Edgewater Village Association continues with its plan to demolish the dock beside the entry ramp. The association board voted April 21 to get rid of the dock.

Haeussner said Edgewater homeowners once could launch a sailboat from their backyard, but the cut stones that were added around the edge of the lake to prevent erosion now makes that dangerous.

Those in favor of demolishing the dock said it simply is an underused amenity that will be costly to maintain.

Mike Finney, the chair of the committee for the subunit Edgewater Sound, said the committee received 10 emails from residents following the announcement of the plan to destruct the dock, with all responses opposing the removal of the dock. The community has 122 homes.

Removal of the dock passed 3-2.

The ramp into the water will remain but the dock will be removed at the site.

Three options were presented to the board. The first was to repair the dock while adding appropriate warning signage, to replace a connector across its two sections and to restrict access based on the recommendations of the safety committee for CEVA. The second option was to demolish the dock. The third was to transfer ownership of the dock to Community Development District 2 for lake maintenance purposes, though this option was declined by the district.

Haeussner said he was concerned four of the five board members who voted were Lakewood Ranch Country Club residents and not Edgewater residents.

Eileen Annesbury, an Edgewater resident who shares Haeussner's concerns, said the issue had arisen in past years and that she has fought against the removal, even though she doesn't use the dock.

“The dock is an amenity, and you do not take away an amenity based on use," she said. "Also, the potential for future use is there, and Edgewater originally included boats sailing on the lake in its promotions."

"It’s the only opportunity for people like Charlie to use a boat," said Ron Butschle, Haeussner's neighbor. "He’s used it an awful lot, and his boat adds to the ambiance of Lake Uihlein. It’s all part of the community, and it would be sad to see them dismantle it."

Don Diven, the Edgewater resident and board member who voted to retain the dock, echoed Haeussner's comments that it was a necessary feature for the lake, stating that its removal might have the potential to increase liability for safety.

Chris Girouard, a board member who voted to keep the dock, declined to comment on the topic. 

Board members Paul Harding and Michael Miller, who voted for the dock's removal, said multiple factors influenced their decision, one of those being the estimated costs of repair. Miller said that the safety committee recommended the entire surface of the dock be replaced. It also advised that other features, such as railings, should be added and that a metal ramp connecting the dock's two sections be replaced. Harding said the cost estimates were somewhere between $35,000 and $55,000.

Both members said they did not feel it was a responsible fiscal decision to repair the dock. Harding said that because Haeussner is the only regular user of the dock, homeowners would not favor spending money out of the association's reserves to fix it.

The cost of removing the dock was $7,000 to $12,000, Harding added.

Miller said the different cost estimates the board received to repair the dock were all "surprisingly high." However, he said that after examining the dock himself, he chose to adopt the safety committee's conclusion that it was unsafe, which he said it was important to take into account.

Charles Haeussner hopes that sailing on Lake Uihlein will continue.

"The safety committee called it out, and that put us on notice," he said. "When people raise their hands and talk safety, you have to pay attention."

Miller said that although he was sympathetic to Haeussner's issue, he could not justify the expense of maintenance based on the low rate of use. "It can be a real problem," he said. "I feel for him, and he will need some help launching his boat. The other side of the coin is that the dock is ultimately a convenience, and the ability to use the lake recreationally remains in the absence of the dock."

Miller said the low number of users is "remarkable," especially considering the dock is available to anyone in Phase One of Lakewood Ranch. He said that at one point in the past, he bought an access key himself in order to support the amenity. 

As the liaison for CEVA's safety committee, Harding said the committee also was concerned about liability for the dock and he said the board had obtained legal advice that additional signage alone would be insufficient to prevent liability at the site.

Harding said he "significantly questioned" whether the amenity was a reason someone would purchase a home there. He said he hadn't seen any evidence that sailing on the lake had been promoted to those contemplating a home purchase in the subdivision.

Haeussner said the cost of the dock's repair does not seem accurate or even warranted. He said the dock requires no upgrades in the near future and that while the dock might have a worn appearance, it is simply the normal weathering process. He said the individual boards and pilings are sturdy.

He said the dock is needed because his sailboat has a 20-foot mast which makes it unstable to board in the water if it is not tied to a dock. 

Haeussner said those who try to board their boat without it being tied to the dock could be doing so in an unsafe manner and therefore that should raise liability concerns. He said the advanced age of many of the residents increases those concerns.

“You can't just put this thing in the water and then hop into it," he said of his sailboat. "You’d have to jump up high, and that would tip the boat over. You need a place to tie it, to hold it steady. So a dock is the sensible thing. At the beach, it’s a different story, because the descent is gradual. You can get in and out slowly. This is a lake.”

He also pointed to the presence of alligators in the lake and said that was a threat to anyone trying to enter the boat through the water.

“If the issue is safety, you have to have a dock,” he said.

Haeussener said the homeowners association gave only a day's notice about a vote to destroy the dock. He said although he had interacted with the association about the issue in the past, he had believed it to be settled in favor of the dock.

“I found out about it at noon, and then rushed to attend the meeting at 2 p.m.,” he said.

Diven said he disagreed with the decision of the association to host the meeting without first polling residents for their opinions, and said maintenance crews also make use of the dock.

Harding and Miller said the issue had been raised at multiple points during meetings over the past years, so residents, including Haeussner himself, who had testified in favor of the dock in the past, had ample opportunity to voice their concerns.

Harding said the dock's removal was the most appropriate option.

"The board has basically acted on the concern that came from the safety and security committee, which is made up of neighborhood representatives throughout CEVA," he said. "It certainly gives due attention to any recommendations from there."

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