CLEARWATER – It’s an ongoing issue with a lot of history, which Pinellas County says proves its case. The homeowners associations are responsible for maintenance of stormwater facilities at Tara Cay Sound in Seminole.
However, Thomas Cuba with Delta Seven Environmental Consulting says requiring homeowners to provide maintenance “is an apparently perpetual burden on private citizens to provide a public service.”
Pete Yauch, director of transportation and stormwater, explained the situation to county commissioners during a Feb. 21 meeting. He also presented several letters going back to 2002, detailing specifics of an agreement with the subdivision’s developer and showing past requests from the homeowners association for help with maintenance issues.
The history goes back to the mid-1980s and 1990s during development of Tara Cay.
In the 1980s, before the subdivision was developed, the canal that flows through Tara Cay was a 100-foot drainage ditch through which stormwater from Phase I of Indian Heights and 102nd Avenue flowed out to the Intracoastal Waterway.
The developer of Tara Cay Sound wanted to widen the ditch from 100 feet to 200 feet and increase the depth from 1 to 2 feet to 6 feet to allow boats to navigate the area and docks to be built.
The developer received a permit to dredge the canal in 1993, Yauch said. The permitting process included mitigation requirements for drainage, and there was an agreement with the county for responsibility of future maintenance.
Yauch said documents from the engineer of record in 1993 specify that the developer was responsible for passing along future maintenance requirements to the homeowner’s association. Cuba believes, regardless of past agreements, that the county should pay the costs because water drains into the canal from outside Tara Cay’s property.
But that’s only part of the problem. There are actually two homeowners associations – one for Tara Cay North and one for the south part of the subdivision. Only one of the two was notified of the maintenance requirements.
County Administrator Bob LaSala told commissioners that the homeowners association that was informed of the requirements wants the county to act as the enforcer between the two.
“I feel for them, but it is not the role of government to moderate a private agreement even if it is an agreement with the county,” he said.
He said it was a matter for the courts that goes back to the initial developer’s agreement and deed restrictions on the property.
“If we were to make an exception, we would be setting a new precedent,” he said. “There would be financial implications and responsibilities that would pass to the board (of county commissioners.”
LaSala said there were “many, many” similar situations in the county where private parties had agreed to maintain stormwater facilities as part of agreements. To alter these agreements would place a “huge financial burden on all people in the county,” he said.
Still Cuba maintains that the county should allow the HOAs to transfer its permit to the county, making the county responsible for the stormwater system, which he said was the “right thing” to do.”
Yauch said the county is responsible for maintaining the system up to where the end lines come onto Tara Cay’s property. The HOAs are responsible for the weir, the canal and a stormwater retention pond.
“The county is responsible for everything upstream of the head wall and Tara Cay is responsible for everything downstream,” Yauch said.
But that responsibility is not specified in the HOAs’ papers.
“The ball was dropped in 1995,” Cuba said.
Commissioner Neil Brickfield pointed out that there were “structures all over the county that have been abandoned … I don’t feel like inheriting 5,000 retention ponds.”
Commissioner Norm Roche asked how much it would cost to clean up the retention pond, which is part of what Tara Cay wants the county to do.
“I wouldn’t venture a guess,” LaSala replied. “We’d have to go examine it.”
Yauch said there also was damage to the weir, which is not the county’s responsibility to repair.
In the end, commissioners agreed to ask staff to research the costs of maintenance and possible solutions to the problem so all involved parties would be aware of the price.
Welch asked what the commission would do if another private party came to them with a similar situation. Roche, who made the motion to have staff research the costs, said the commission was not agreeing to do anything or pay for anything.
“I’d just like to know the cost,” Roche said. “It is $1,000, $5,000 or $100,000.”