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State agency can't help Oaks property owners

Owners of property at The Oaks subdivision thought that state regulators finally were on their side. Last December, the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR), ordered the group of builders who developed the Spring Hill subdivision to buy back undeveloped lots they sold in The Oaks from any lot owner who wanted to sell.

The reason, DBR said in the order, was because the builders failed to provide amenities _ such as tennis courts, a community clubhouse and recreational vehicle parking _ they had promised to the lot buyers when they sold the land. Property owners who already had built on their lots were not granted any relief under the order.

But now it seems DBR apparently cannot enforce its December order, leaving property owners who want to sell their vacant lots _ 31 of them _ hopeful for whatever settlement can be struck between the state agency and the group of builders.

"We've got a problem," DBR spokesman John Currie said Tuesday.

"Apparently, there was a legal case that came down (in January) that said we can order (a developer) to pay or offer refunds, but we can't go into court and make him pay it.

"Right now, it looks like the best we can do is work with the developer and try to get the best deal for (the lot owners) as possible."

Currie said members of DBR's legal staff will be meeting with the developers of The Oaks _ who, according to state records, include Spring Hill builders Greg Cecil, Rudolph and David Bruni and Roy Rudolph, among others _ over the next several weeks to try to reach a new settlement.

Cecil, who is first vice president and secretary of the development group, called The Oaks of Spring Hill Inc., said Tuesday he had not heard from DBR regarding the meeting. Cecil said he did not know how much the builders could pay to the landowners seeking reimbursements.

As previously reported by the St. Petersburg Times, property owners who wanted reimbursements under the December DBR order began complaining to department last month, after they received letters from Cecil offering to pay them $1,000 each to drop their claims. The property owners also could keep their lots under the offer.

In the letter, Cecil explained that the partnership financially was unable to pay the full cost of the half-acre lots _ which typically sold for more than $20,000 each _ because so many people had requested refunds.

"If he can't pay it . . . and he has to file bankruptcy, it's not going to do any good to anybody anyway," said Currie, the DBR spokesman.

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