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Brooksville faces development of Southern Hills but with dwindling settlement funds

BROOKSVILLE — When the developer of Southern Hills Plantation Club filed for bankruptcy in 2007, the city of Brooksville was forced into a role it never envisioned: that of developer.

Four years later, the issue of incomplete infrastructure left by LandMar, the subdivision's original developer, has been marked by legal battles with surety companies that underwrote performance bonds and complaints from residents who are demanding that the city complete the unfinished work.

Last week, Brooksville City Council members learned that fixing those problems would cost about $1,622,000, according to estimates provided by engineering consulting firm Coastal Engineering Associates.

However, only $1,291,000 remains from the original $2.6 million settlement the city reached with three bond companies. The city is still battling with a fourth company.

In its recommendations, Coastal outlined three tasks, the highest priority of which is completion of roads, sewer, drainage and sidewalks in Southern Hills' Phase III, where lots already have been sold.

The two other tasks include extensive repair to the development's main thoroughfare, Southern Hills Boulevard, which is crumbling because of faulty construction, plus additional infrastructure improvements in Phase II of the development.

Based on Coastal's estimates, the city would need an additional $331,000 to complete all of the recommended work. However, City Council member Kevin Hohn, who lives in Southern Hills, said he is confident that all of the necessary work can be completed with the money that remains from the settlement proceeds.

"I think once the bids are in, we'll be well below what's needed to get that done," Hohn said.

He suggested that some of the work, including construction of 6,000 feet of sidewalk, can wait, or be placed under the responsibility of Southern Hills' new developer, GreenPointe Communities.

Not only did LandMar's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing leave the city holding the bag for completion of utilities, roads and sidewalks, the city was also on the hook to build a reclaimed water facility that was partly funded by a grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

To make the grant deadline, the City Council elected to use some of the settlement proceeds to build the water treatment system first. But some owners, concerned that doing so would take money away from other improvements, filed an injunction to freeze the settlement funds until the city completes infrastructure and road paving where their undeveloped lots are located.

City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said that the task of sorting out just what needed to be done to complete Southern Hills' infrastructure took time. In addition, there were also questions of just how much responsibility fell to GreenPointe, which acquired the gated golf course community last year for $3.3 million.

According to engineering studies, about $1.1 million would be needed to complete work in Phase III. An additional $155,000 would be needed to correct problems on Southern Hills Boulevard, which is deteriorating because of improperly packed subgrade.

Council member Lara Bradburn said that once the major problems in Phase III are addressed and issues with the city's portion of the roadway are resolved, she would be in favor of putting any leftover funds toward correcting other problems in Phase II.

We're trying to do what we know we need to correct," Bradburn said. "I'm very optimistic that it will all work out fine."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Brooksville faces development of Southern Hills but with dwindling settlement funds 12/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 7:08pm]
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