CDD Votes for Tree Survey; Gets Cell Tower Pushback from Parks Advisory Board

The March 1 Westchase CDD meeting saw supervisors vote to complete a Westchase street tree survey and hear opposition to the proposed Glencliff Park cell tower from Hillsborough County’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

Opening the meeting, CDD Engineer Robert Dvorak stated the district had acquired two more bids, for $16,800 and $22,000, for restoration of a badly eroded creekbank behind a Springrose Drive home. These were in addition to the $39,748 bid from last month. Dvorak stated Finn Outdoor submitted the lowest bid. “I feel comfortable they can do the work and do a good job,” he said of Finn Outdoor, the lowest bidder. Citing the current dry season, Dvorak added, “I’d just soon proceed and get it done before the rain starts.”

Supervisors approved the bid, 5-0.

Dvorak stated he had received SWFTMD’s recommendation for approval of a wetlands survey on district owned land behind the library, where a cell tower is proposed. He added the wetlands map was good for five years, but could be extendable after its February 2027 expiration.

Following up on resident requests to limit non-homeowner use of West Park’s alleys, Dvorak stated he consulted with some traffic engineers.  “It sounds like they have a lot of different tools in their toolbox for things like this,” he said, adding, “They need to look at it on a location-by-location basis.”  Supervisors gave Dvorak the nod to seek recommendations for the two areas.

Making her report, CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated the district finalized its contract with the USDA for vulture remediation in parts of The Bridges adjacent to a lake with an island roosting spot. “It’s been fully executed,” she said. Later in the meeting, she stated an email stated the start date for the fireworks and lethal culling of the birds would begin in two weeks.

McCormick then pivoted to the recent meeting she had with the Hillsborough Parks and Recreation Advisory Board over the district’s proposed Glencliff Park Cell Tower. Westchase parks are owned by the Westchase CDD and their maintenance is fully paid for by the district and Westchase residents. Nevertheless, they exist under an interlocal agreement with Hillsborough County that stipulates they must be kept open to the county at large; that agreement also gives the county say in the parks in some matters – the result of a deal struck years ago by Westchase’s developer.

While the proposed cell tower has been opposed by around 20 Woodbay homeowners, the district proposed it after 26 Glencliff homeowners signed a petition in October 2018 asking the district to locate a cell tower nearby to address abysmal cell service in Westchase neighborhoods off Countryway Boulevard. The Westchase Community Association also endorsed the tower and in recent weeks, an unknown number of Harbor Links/The Estates residents also contacted the county in support. The county, however, asked for the parks advisory board for its input. Thus, CDD Chair Matt Lewis and McCormick attended the meeting along with WCA Director Eric Holt, head of the associations’ Government Affairs Committee, and Connor Lamb, a Harbor Links resident whose dropped 911 emergency cell phone call to save his daughter’s life prompted his involvement in improving cell service.

“To put it bluntly, it didn’t go well,” said Lewis. He stated they had made the case that the cell tower would enhance community safety. Stating the advisory board was chaired by Westchase resident Anthony Sanchez, a former supervisor on the Westchase CDD, Lewis said, “To put it mildly, he said, if your cellphone doesn’t work, get a new carrier or get a landline.”

While Lewis stated he presented the parks board information about the district’s process over the past two years, he added, “It didn’t seem to change their mind.” Lewis added the board wanted to shorten the lease terms of cell towers in other county parks.  When he followed up with an email, however, Lewis said he was invited to provide other data that might sway the board members.

“Does it mean it will not go before [the Hillsborough County Commission]?” asked Supervisor Forrest Baumhover.

Lewis stated that the BOCC could decide to approve it without the park advisory board’s support but added, “I feel like I want to give them one more chance. I don’t know if I’m going to sway their minds.”

Lamb, present in the audience, praised Lewis’ and Holt’s presentation at the meeting. “My take on it wasn’t as pessimistic,” he said. “They’re currently thinking our current infrastructure is sufficient.” Lamb added, “I think it’s not.”

Lewis emphasized that the district loves its parks, reflected in the $2 million its spent in recent years on them. McCormick echoed that the district wasn’t seeking to make money from the tower, whose lease money would be reinvested in the parks.

“Our community in order to be a flourishing community needs to have cell phone coverage,” argued Lamb. “This board has done an extensive amount of work to find the best solution in our community.”

“My experience is boards are proprietary,” said Supervisor Brian Ross, suggesting that the district emphasize to the parks board that the proposed tower is not eliminating any purpose or benefits of the park. “What it’s doing is adding to the [park’s] benefits.” Ross added, “We’re picking up something we didn’t have before.”

Supervisor Baumhover pointed out that the parking lot reconfiguration it prompted even increased parking by a few spots. “We’re not undoing our investment,” he said.

Lewis stated he would reach out to the parks advisory board with additional information and give them a few weeks to respond. He added if the additional statistics on community support didn’t sway them, he would approach the WCA and seek to take the matter directly to the BOCC.

Making his report, District Manager Andy Mendenhall stated he had received word that developer Grady Pridgen was clearing land on Tate Lane adjacent to the railroad tracks for townhomes. Called Westchase Station, the original plan called for just over three dozen townhomes. Mendenhall stated that the parcel’s development would change the CDD assessment of it. “I had reached out to his offices on Friday,” he said, adding he had not heard back yet.

CDD Field Manager Doug Mays offered his praise for Greens gatehouse guard Mac Joseph, who responded quickly with a fire extinguisher when a car, in flames, pulled beneath the gate house wings. Mays stated that Joseph’s quick action kept the fire from spreading to the gatehouse until the fire department responded.

Whyte added the insurance company was responsive to the $10,000 in damage that did occur to the surrounding asphalt and the gatehouse’s security cameras.

After Chair Lewis described the district’s recent workshop addressing street tree policy as productive, CDD Arborist Mark Hughes circulated a proposal for $15,000 that would inventory and make notes about all the street trees currently maintained by the district. He stated the information would be incorporated into the CDD’s GIS mapping system and would be a valuable tool if kept updated. The inventory represents the first part of the district’s new street tree program, whose goal is to preserve the existing street tree canopy while incorporating replacement trees for oaks whose damage cannot be ameliorated.

After Supervisor Ross briefly discussed some of his concerns about one of Hughes’ suggested replacement trees – Japanese blueberry, supervisors approved the bid unanimously.

After Office Manager Whyte requested supervisors submit any wish list items for research and incorporation into the upcoming draft 2023 budget, supervisors adjourned at 4:50 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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