Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Education

Brookridge delays gate closing as parents seek injunction

BROOKRIDGE — The back gate at Brookridge, used by roughly 50 students to get to and from school, will remain open — for at least another two weeks.

It was initially scheduled to be closed Monday.

The move to close the gate sparked alarm and outrage among some Brookridge parents, who said their children would be forced to walk several miles along dangerous roads. And on Friday, two parents filed a request in court for an injunction to keep the gate open.

The board of directors of the community of 2,500 mobile homes voted to extend the deadline for the gate closing, according to a statement from the board on Friday. They will take that time to consult with their attorneys and discuss the feasibility of using volunteers to staff the gate, the statement said.

They declined to elaborate further.

General manager Ray Geroux said he was not authorized to speak about the issue and deferred questions to board president Ray Starr. Starr did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Michael Burzumato was pleased that the community pushed back the gate closure.

"I think the extension is good as it will give the parties involved more time to discuss other options," Burzumato said. "I'm glad they did an extension. That makes me very happy."

Meanwhile on Friday, two Brookridge residents filed a motion for a temporary injunction against the Brookridge Community Property Owners board of directors, seeking to keep the gate open.

In the motion, the residents, James Smith and Jenny Paesch, say their kids would be forced to walk more than 5 miles to get to school. Paesch's child, who is disabled, could not make it to school without the gate open on days when she can't take him, according to an affidavit filed with the court.

Busing is not available for Brookridge students because they live too close to Pine Grove Elementary, West Hernando Middle and Central High schools, all of which are on the back side of the community.

School district officials say it would cost about $100,000 to add busing.

The motion claims Smith and Paesch, as well as association members, were not given proper notice of the meeting where the community's board of directors voted to close the gate. Likewise, they say, they weren't given the opportunity to attend or speak at the meeting. The motion says no pending emergency was looming to allow such a meeting.

It wasn't until Sept. 5 that residents with children using the gate were notified it would be shut, according to the motion.

Shortly thereafter, Brookridge officials placed a sign next to the back gate reading, "The rear gate will no longer be open for school children."

After days of protests and news coverage this week, the sign was changed to read, "This gate will be closed to pedestrian traffic."

The controversy over the gate began in late August.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office sent Brookridge a letter asking the community to open and close the back gate for students to go to and from school. A crossing guard had been doing it up until that point.

Board members met and eventually decided that they would need to provide security at the gate. They concluded that the security would be too expensive and voted unanimously to close the gate.

Starr, in an earlier interview, said security was a major concern. He did say, however, that there have not been any major concerns at the back gate in recent years.

"I can't think of anything off the top of my head," he told the Tampa Bay Times. "I would say, probably not. However, I also have to speak for the people. (And residents are) still are very concerned about the possibility."

Many residents who have been protesting the back gate closure say the safety aspect is a ruse. They say it's really all about kicking families with children out of the community and making it 55-and-older.

Starr has said this isn't true.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.

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