The largest financial issue facing the Gateway community is the Lake Bank Restoration Project, for which about one million dollars has already been spent fixing problematic ponds – with another four million dollars (or more) possibly needed in the future.
It’s been generally accepted that a big reason the ponds are causing issues is because they were improperly constructed by the developers as Gateway was being built. So now that it’s time to fix the lakes, why are the residents of Gateway getting stuck with the bill rather than the developers fixing their mistakes?
The main culprit, housing developer WCI, declared bankruptcy several years ago and legally shed itself of any financial obligations to fix the ponds in the process. And even if they hadn’t, the statute of limitations would be up to sue WCI or any other developer that built lakes incorrectly in Gateway.
And besides, once the Gateway Services Community Development District signed off taking over ownership of the ponds from WCI several years ago, our community also accepted financial responsibility for fixing them.
Oh, about that.
Gateway Greens HOA President and frequent GSCDD meeting contributor Ed Tinkle informed the Board of Supervisors on September 3, 2015 that the district never formally accepted ownership of any problem lakes from WCI.
“We stepped in and we started operating lakes, taking over management. We should not have done it,” said Tinkle. “We stepped in and started operating these things and maintaining them and those engineers and those contractors had not furnished this Board – cause I’ve got a copy of the letter – but Bill Knight refused to sign, from one developer.”
Knight was the GSCDD Operations Manager from February 2006 until February 2011.
“[Knight] refused to sign on the permit. I wanna call it a Form 1049. It’s a South Florida Water Management District form that this entity signs to acknowledge they’ve reviewed all the as-builts and everything, and they’re assured taking over the operation of a viable pond. We took over a bunch without doing that form. A bunch,” Tinkle said.
GSCDD Chairman William Guy responded, “You’re probably right, but you can’t un-ring that bell.”
Said Tinkle: “You can’t un-ring that bell, that’s true. But the one thing you can do … is the people that rung that bell, you can sit down with [them] at the table and let ‘em know how the facts of life really are. One in particular has got a thousand homes to build here yet. And I’m telling you this is gonna be a political issue at the next election.”
Tinkle continued, “If [WCI] wants to hide behind the shield of bankruptcy, let ‘em hide. But if I have anything to do with it they’d be pushing beans with their nose .. to get permits approved until they come in and help us with the costs we’re incurring on ponds that were not built right.”
What Tinkle seems to be suggesting is that the GSCDD should summon WCI to a meeting and let them know that unless WCI contributes money toward the Lake Bank Restoration Project then the district will make the developer’s life difficult trying to get approval for all the permitting they’ll require as they continue to build houses in GSCDD territory.
The longer it takes for permits, the longer it takes for WCI to close the deals on the houses they build and get their money. Tinkle’s logic is that since time is money, maybe causing enough delays would be disruptive enough that WCI would relent and chip in to help fix the problems they’re blamed for creating.
If there are indeed a thousand homes yet to be built by WCI, the developer stands to profit millions and maybe even tens of millions of dollars building houses here.
Ultimately since WCI cannot be forced to pay anything, all the district can do is try to persuade the developer. So far WCI hasn’t been willing to offer any kind of compromise or compensation.
Maybe Tinkle is correct and there could be some opportunities to retaliate if WCI refuses to help pay. But at the September 3 meeting, the Board displayed little appetite for holding WCI accountable.
Chairman Guy and Supervisor Gary Neubauer both live in Pelican Preserve, where WCI just rewarded residents in that community with all kinds of new amenities and other goodies. If I was Guy or Neubauer I wouldn’t be in any rush to wag my finger at WCI either. Things are good in Pelican. Property values will rise there.
If Tinkle’s prediction is correct and this becomes a political issue during the next GSCDD elections then each candidate will have to state their position on whether or not they will play hardball with WCI.
That said, it will be easy and politically popular to rattle a saber at WCI in November 2016, but convincing the developer to actually hand over any money will prove to be much more difficult.
Nevertheless, we admire Tinkle’s spirit and wish our Supervisors would share his level of desire to help Gateway.