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Orphaned but popular road excites range of reactions

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Call it the strange case of the orphan road where good turns do not go unpunished.

By MELODY JAMESON

SUN CITY CENTER – Call it the strange case of the orphan road where good turns do not go unpunished.

Of course, area residents using little Sun City Center Plaza – a long city block of bad road between S.R. 674 and a number of popular plaza destinations – may direct a few stronger expletives to it as their vehicle suspension systems grapple with its potholes and golf carts dart around them. No doubt, though, that no one, but no one, is claiming it.

It’s an unwanted little roadway badly in need of repair, notes Ed Barnes, president of the SCC Community Association, who has been trying for months to find a satisfactory solution. And, the situation arising from it, he adds, “is getting pretty ugly.”

Oh, yes, verifies Dana Dittmar, executive director of the SCC Chamber of Commerce whose parking lot abuts the little road. Angry drivers on the roadway have been storming into the chamber offices, yelling, threatening, abusing chamber staff, she says, adding “no one working on behalf of a chamber dedicated to community well being should be confronted with such treatment. We don’t own the road,” she asserts with emphasis.

So, who does?

Hillsborough County? Well, no, responds Joe Settecasi, spokesman for the county’s real estate section. In county records, Sun City Center Plaza is the property of SunMark Communities, Inc. , he says. His records do not reflect that SunMark, one among a succession of SCC developers, was building homes in town during the late1970s and early ‘80s. Essentially, it was folded into the corporation that eventually gave way to WCI Communities, Inc.

Ah, ownership then must accrue to that developer, WCI Communities, Inc, right? Not really, states management at the new company – WCI Communities, LLC- that evolved out of old WCI’s bankruptcy proceedings following collapse of the local real estate sales market late in the last decade.

When the bankruptcy was being worked out, there were several properties which were not conveyed legally from the old WCI to the new corporate entity, says Dave Caldwell, a manager with new WCI located in old WCI’s Bonita Springs headquarters. The little street was among them, he adds. Any remainder was to be administered by a trustee appointed by the bankruptcy court.

Could ownership be construed as now residing with the current developer, Minto Communities, perhaps? Actually, no, answers a local executive of the Canada-based firm which purchased primarily the remaining residential building acreages from withdrawing WCI. Sun City Center Plaza simply was not among the properties Minto acquired from WCI, confirms Bill Bullock, vice president for Central Florida development.

Looking for resolution dates back to last October, says Barnes, when the deepening potholes along Sun City Center Plaza began to raise hackles. Patching them was not effective. And the little road became a focus in several organizations dedicated to the community welfare, including the CA, the chamber’s business membership and a coalition of regularly convening corporate leaders. A workable fix has eluded all of them; the legal ownership issue remains a stumbling block.

At one point, Minto stepped up and assigned engineers to evaluate the roadway, trying to assess underlying problems and estimate repair costs. Because the potholes fill with water, without benefit of rain, there’s a strong suspicion drainage problems lurk beneath the roadway, Bullock notes. The working dollar figure to solve simple drainage issues and resurface the roadway is in the $40,000 neighborhood, he adds. But, that could be “a stab in the dark,” depending on the actual water source, “and I don’t know where the money would come from.”

Few among them, most particularly the chamber, has that level of funding available for the project, acknowledges Dittmar. And, she points out, the initial repair is not the biggest obstacle; the responsibility for continued maintenance is. There are financial resources or financing mechanisms within the community that might be tapped, if simple repair were the only issue, she adds. But, those sources are not designed to take on the little road’s upkeep far into the future.

From that perspective, though, there are other slants on the matter. Due to the road’s condition and ensuing public reactions, Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Girard, SCC’s community resource deputy, was alerted. This, in turn, involved Hillsborough County’s Code Enforcement division, which issued a citation to the road’s owner of record, SunMark Communities, Inc., in Bonita Springs, according to Jim Blinck, a code enforcement manager.

While the citation itself may accomplish little, Blinck explains, if ignored or not complied with, it could lead to a hearing which, if the matter still is not resolved to the satisfaction of the parties, could produce a lien on the roadway property which, if not settled and lifted, could lead to foreclosure on the property and its acquisition by the county. Blinck could not estimate the length of time involved in such a course of action.

In addition, Blinck notes, taxes on the road property have not been paid for the last two tax years. The related tax certificates are being sold. Unpaid taxes for 2009 top $3,569 and for 2010, $2, 845. If the subject property is not acquired for taxes in an eventual tax sale, the usual procedure is that the county, after a seven-year span, claims and takes possession of the property on behalf of its citizenry, Blinck suggests.

That, though, is a long time to wait — for the community’s angry passenger car drivers, for its dodging golf cart pilots, for truckers at the helms of their scudding 18-wheelers headed for the post office or plaza stores and for Dittmar’s beleaguered chamber staffers. Her voice trails off as she talks about the safety concerns: “what if a golf cart gets swallowed up in one of those holes……”

Then, there was that unnamed fellow in the chamber parking lot last week, Dittmar recounts, accosting arriving attendees for the regular networking session, waving full color flyers accusing the chamber of jeopardizing their vehicles on the uneven, pocked roadway adjacent and illustrating so well that the illogic of frustration and hostility often turns on the very force trying to help.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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