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East County Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010 7 years ago

Sorting through Ranch's red tape

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Editor’s note: This is the third in an ongoing series about Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

LAKEWOOD RANCH — As a resident of a Community Development District, if you’ve ever wondered who to go to — your CDD or homeowners association — for landscaping or other issues, you are not alone.

The confusion is one found throughout the East County’s CDD communities.

But the issue generally is simpler than people realize.

“The HOA is only responsible for your house, your deed restrictions as they apply to your house and your yard,” CDD 4 Supervisor Anne Fischer said. “That is the entirety of their responsibility. Anything other than that is going to be CDD.”

Pond maintenance, the landscaping of medians, parks and other common areas as well as irrigation along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, for example, are all responsibilities of the CDDs.

A confusion of roles
In nearly every CDD-governed community, the roles of the CDD and the HOAs can be confusing. In Lakewood Ranch, in particular, that confusion is complicated by several factors.

To start, managers for both the HOAs and CDDs are based out of a singular building — Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. Community Manager Bob Fernandez oversees responsibilities held by the CDDs, while Community Association Services Manager Cynthia Wills, who reports to Fernandez, oversees property management duties for the HOA boards, including the enforcement of deed restrictions.

If, for example, a resident has a question regarding trimming the trees on his property and ventures to Town Hall, staff there should direct him to Wills or his HOA. But if he comes back again with a concern about the grass on a median on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard that same Town Hall staff person would direct him to Fernandez.

“Town Hall is the focal point for most people,” Inter-District Authority Supervisor Tom Green said. “In many cases, we can answer them, but we may not be the right venue to answer them. Getting people to understand what is a homeowners issue and what’s a CDD issue is half the battle.”

Maintenance-free neighborhoods are trickier still, with condominium and homeowners associations holding contracts for residential properties. Work is done on the same day, as if it were controlled by a CDD contract. But in that case, CDDs provide maintenance for a limited area — such as the street medians.

Additionally, most HOAs have several standing committees for items such as landscape and safety. Those committees develop recommendations for improving their neighborhoods, which they bring before CDD supervisors.

But there is no guarantee that what that committee decides — whether new landscaping for the entrance of their neighborhood or having armed patrols of communities — will be implemented by the CDDS.

“You get this dual role,” CDD 1 Supervisor June Stroup said. “The HOA is suggesting to the CDD, and the CDD has the right to accept or reject those suggestions.”

Landscaping issues, in particular, can become contentious because Town Hall staff members overseeing CDD contracts only can allow what is approved in that contract. If a resident complains about a dead bush, for example, the contract determines what actions can be taken.

“If that item is not (in the landscaping contract), (staff) basically can do nothing,” Fischer said. “People get very angry saying Town Hall can’t help me.”

Representatives of East County CDD communities such as Tara, Waterlefe and University Place agreed the issue is not limited to Lakewood Ranch, although Lakewood Ranch’s issues are more complex because of its governance structure and the number of CDDs involved.

However, in some CDDs, the issue is nearly avoided altogether. In Heritage Harbour South, for example, the CDD has an agreement that makes the master HOA responsible for the maintenance of the community, including common areas and infrastructure, Heritage Harbour South’s District Manager Jim Ward said.

Any solutions?
Although Lakewood Ranch is unique because its CDD and HOA management is done in-house at Town Hall, other CDDs in the area have seen similar confusion and have made steps to address the issue.

Ric Romanoff, a supervisor of the University Place CDD, said the problem is one his 403-home community has tried to deal with by fostering more communication between residents, the HOA and the CDD.

“We have structured our CDD meetings to encourage our residents to come and be heard,” he said. “We’ve structure them to be more like town hall meetings than strict business meetings.”

The community’s HOA manager already sends weekly e-mails to homeowners, so supervisors simply have the HOA manager e-mail the CDD meeting agenda to residents as well. The effort seems to be working.

“Typically, we get 20-25 people attending meetings,” Romanoff said. “In the meeting we considered (a parking) ordinance, we had about 50.”

Romanoff said University Place’s CDD board has experimented with meeting times to try to encourage resident participation. Although there did not seem to be a difference in attendance between daytime and evening meetings — the same residents attended both — the board has opted for evening meetings to make it convenient for residents.

The management company Rizzetta and Co., which oversees CDD operations for Waterlefe and Tara, hosts neighborhood meetings on the topic when it takes on management of a particular community, holding sessions with residents, CDD and HOA members and even the home builders’ sales staff, Rizzetta’s owner Bill Rizzetta said.

“That’s what we have found is really the most effective way to communicate,” he said.

In Lakewood Ranch, Fernandez gave a presentation on the topic to new residents about a year ago. He’s also working on developing a newsletter to keep residents up-to-date, Green said.

Fernandez did not return repeated phone calls requesting comments for this article.

The HOA boards for neighborhoods such as Edgewater Cove have put together briefings on the topic in the past to help clarify the issue to homeowners, Edgewater Cove board member Dave Kostura said.

“Another thing we do is advertise the list of functions and names and phone numbers in the homeowners manual,” he said. “With all that, I think we have started to make people understand. There are people who are not going to educate themselves, so we are prepared for that, too.”

Stroup said the community may be better served if the HOA was a completely separate entity with its own management and did not report to the IDA.

“People would learn very quickly that some issues you have to deal with the CDD (and some the HOA if they were completely separate),” Stroup said.

But regardless of methods used to address the problem, supervisors, community managers and HOA board members agree communication is key. Having more resident participation at both HOA and CDD meetings, as well as making sure CDD supervisors and HOA representatives pass resident concerns to the appropriate channels is critical.

“(Communication is) an area both boards can work on so that each board understands what the other is looking for and would like to do,” Greenbrook HOA board member Steve Balazic said. “One of the ways it can happen is better participation in each other’s meetings.”

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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