By MELODY JAMESON
SUN CITY CENTER — Following intense campaigns pro and con, residents here have rejected a community capital improvements building program and its proposed financing.
The issues — sometimes portrayed in deceptive terms — prompted one of the largest voting turn-outs in the retirement center’s recent history.
Although defeated, the concepts and reasoning behind them remain alive and could become the focus of organized community conversations taking shape as early as next month.
Voting up or down on construction of two new buildings in the community’s central activities campus to provide space needed for several functions plus updating additions to the atrium plaza area and projected financing involving a $2.4 million bank loan was concluded February 14. At final count, 2,480 ballots opposed the plan while 1,917 supported it, said Ed Barnes, president of the SCC Community Association currently composed of about 10,800 residents.
The 4,397 voter turn-out approached 40 percent of the association’s membership, several times more than the voter interest taken in recent years for annual community association elections to choose its directors. Approximately a quarter of the mostly retired residents defeated the plan aimed also at freshening the 50-year-old community’s appearance as increasing competition by newer age-restricted developments in the area affects the resale of homes.
Following the vote tally, Barnes expressed disappointment that a plan which began about a year ago with a community-wide survey to pinpoint residents’ improvement preferences was rejected. The CA president characterized that rejection as “a major setback for SCC.” On one hand, he added, “we are very glad for the interest the members have shown in this project.” But on the other hand, he noted that apparently many “ do not want to modernize and update SCC.”
Barnes also noted the “unfounded fear” that was encouraged in the community by “a tremendous amount of erroneous information put out about the plan” as opponents campaigned against it with “highly distorted and in most cases just flat wrong” information.
CA Director Howie Griffin, reflecting on the balloting outcome, said he found the resistance “puzzling.” He pointed to the three town hall sessions and several informal coffee conversations at which board members demonstrated and explained all components of the building program along with the projected financing based on conservatively estimated revenues from the $1,500 fee accruing each time a home is sold to an incoming first-time buyer. The multiple occasions provided repeated opportunities for residents to ask any questions and make all comments to which the CA board responded, Griffin added.
These numerous exchanges were scheduled over a period of months as part of a step-by-step sequence in an effort to avoid repeating the multiple problems that erupted when the central campus fitness center was built under a previous CA board in the middle of the last decade, Griffin said. That multi-million-dollar project, poorly handled, was subject to long delays, required replacement of defective windows and roof after construction and ultimately was settled only with expensive litigation, because of lack of competent planning, he asserted.
Griffin also called attention to inaccurate information spread across the community in an effort to defeat the building program. Statements that interest on a bank loan could be $900,000 over a 10-year period were “totally erroneous,” as were implications that CA membership dues would be encumbered to repay a loan or that residents’ homes could be foreclosed upon to discharge the debt, he said.
Another CA director and board secretary, David Floyd, emphasized that the leaders’ intentions were solely to “do the best the board can for the community.” He noted that every misperception was addressed and efforts made to respond to every concern although “some people chose not to listen.”
However, board directors do not take rejection of the plan personally, he said, predicting the board now will consider other options that might be explored to accomplish similar objectives on behalf of the community.
In fact, a move in that direction could become a discussion topic in mid-March when the next CA membership meeting is slated, said Chuck Collett, CA vice president. Collett said board members are looking at forming a series of focus groups consisting of interested residents charged with listing, talking through, recommending or rejecting various concepts that might address community needs in the near future. “We need to understand what’s going on in the minds of members before we try again,” he added. Such focus groups could include both opponents and supporters of the just-defeated building program.
In view of the amount of misinformation and misperception about the plan that spread through the community, he noted, “perhaps we didn’t communicate with the membership well enough.”
Given the potentially turbulent marketing environment confronting the nearly built-out retirement center with a substantial, obviously aging housing stock and the rare opportunities offered by a low interest rate situation coupled with temporarily reduced construction costs, “we’re still committed to moving the process forward” in order to upgrade and add attractive space, the vice president said.
One of the first needs the board soon will address is parking adjacent to the Atrium building, Barnes said. He described the severely limited parking space as “critical” and said construction on an expanded parking lot could be undertaken during forthcoming summer months when demand is the lowest.
Several individuals who successfully voiced strong objections to the capital improvements building program also were contacted for this article. They did not respond to telephone inquiries.
Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson