Residents congregate in the foyer of Largo City Hall June 24 after the first reading annexing their properties into city limits was approved. They are upset that their properties will soon be part of the city of Largo.
LARGO – In an effort to clean up pending annexations along the jagged city boundaries, Largo commissioners approved the first reading to annex 181 properties, representing $14.5 million in taxable value.
The residents of three subdivisions, representing the vast majority of the nearly 40 acres of land, were not happy to soon be included within the city.
“I wanted a home in Clearwater. If I wanted one in Largo, I would have bought in Largo,” said JoAnn Jacobson, secretary of the Long Branch Creek Homeowners Association. “I really feel I’ve been taken advantage of and that I’ve had something taken away from me that is a right of mine.”
The problem is, the properties within the Long Branch Creek and Arbor Trace subdivisions, along with those in the Brookstone Subdivision and Brookstone Addition, all had previous agreements with the city of Largo, some going back as far as 1987. The city agreed to extend one of its sewer lines to provide sewer service to the subdivision as it was being built. It was an expensive investment, but the developer agreed to what was called a sewer indenture, allowing the properties to become part of Largo as soon as the city boundary abutted the land.
Now it has. In January, commissioners questioned why city staff hadn’t finalized 342 annexation agreements and 14 sewer indenture agreements that were eligible to be included in the city. The problem was reduced manpower and the sheer number of ordinances the commissioners had to approve to make those annexations a reality, they said.
Commissioners asked the community development department to make the annexations a priority. June 24 was added to the usual commission meeting schedule to accommodate the 18 ordinances in the first batch of those annexations.
The dozens of residents who came to protest said they had no idea that they had agreed to the sewer indentures when they bought their properties.
“I wouldn’t have bought,” said Janet Psarsky of Brookstone, accusing the commissioners of “underhanded, sneaky, sly tactics” after the first reading passed.
The residents were upset that they had no choice and were upset with the wording of the letter they received informing them of the pending change. The commissioners agreed that the letters needed to be friendlier and include the benefits the residents were receiving by becoming Largo residents, directing staff to make those changes for similar future letters.
Bruce Blazej, president of the Brookstone Homeowners Association, advised that the city should let the issue “simmer down a year or so” and then “do it the right way.”
“This is our lives and our property. And we’re going to be paying taxes to the city of Largo. So go out and sell it, for crying out loud. Don’t beat us over the head with a stick,” he said.
Tim Psarsky organized a petition drive in the subdivisions to protest the annexations. The vast majority of the residents with sewer indentures signed one of three petitions, though the petitions didn’t sway the commissioners’ unanimous decision.
“Their arrogance – they’ve always been just like that,” Tim Psarsky said after the meeting. “It’s sad. They don’t care about us.”
Along with not feeling cajoled into the city, residents said they didn’t understand how their properties were contiguous. The city was following the state law on the issue, City Attorney Alan Zimmet said.
“The fact that there’s city of Largo on the other side of Whitney Road … establishes the contiguity that required under the annexation statute,” he explained.
George Bollenback of Long Branch Creek asked what the benefits were to the city. Commissioner Woody Brown later explained that it was efficiency and simplicity in providing services to residents who now live among confusing jagged boundaries and enclaves.
“Our solid waste vehicle drives past your house to pick up (trash for) the people in Largo, and you have a hired waste management or some other company to come and do it. It’s just a really inefficient system,” he explained.
The city also will gain an estimated $77,381 in property tax revenue from the annexations.
The residents left after the first reading of the three major subdivisions were approved. The city went on to approve 36 other individual properties with voluntary annexation agreements.
“It’s too bad they left. I hope they’re watching out in the foyer. We’re not annexing only McMansions,” Commissioner Curtis Holmes commented.
In fact, the residents were complaining in the foyer that the city was going after only their nicer neighborhoods. They didn’t need the city’s code enforcement and didn’t need to be residents to enjoy its library or parks and recreation facility, they said.
During the meeting, Ryan Kiehn voiced another argument many of the residents had: the city wasn’t taking care of the area around their homes. Kiehn said Whitney Road had no sidewalk, there were unsightly strip clubs on U.S. 19 and crime that wasn’t addressed.
“We don’t see the investment in the community,” Kiehn said. “We don’t feel that’s something we want to be a part of.”
Mayor Pat Gerard responded immediately.
“We cannot make an investment in your area unless you are part of the city,” she said.
Holmes pointed out that the problems Kiehn listed were county issues.
“This is exactly what we’re trying to resolve,” he said. “When’s the last time the county put in a sidewalk? The city does that.”
The residents currently are categorized with Clearwater addresses under the U.S. Postal Service. That won’t be affected by the boundary change, commissioners assured them.
The second and final readings of the ordinances are scheduled for Tuesday, July 8.