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Wrenching encounter in divided subdivision

The men in suits rolled out the police command vehicle and parked at the home of the resident who wanted to be annexed.

They set out boxes of doughnuts, cans of soda and pamphlets on the city's Good Neighbors Partnership. They were looking forward to welcoming Wrens Way to Largo _ again.

But some residents of Wrens Way came armed with paperwork for the Wednesday meeting with the guys from City Hall. They hemmed in Mayor Bob Jackson from all sides.

They shouted questions, brandished letters, raised their voices.

"Why have the vote?"

"How come you lied to me?"

They demanded to know why they were asked to vote in a January referendum on being part of Largo if the city was going to ignore the "no" vote and annex them anyway. They were upset the city annexed them in August without telling them individually. They were mad that after the county voided the annexation, the city took its Largo garbage cans back.

And they were perplexed that on Tuesday, the City Commission will vote again on annexing the 42-home subdivision.

Jackson said he was sorry. He said he couldn't promise anyone incentives. He admitted the city was wrong.

But while most of the residents were content to sip soda and chat with city employees, others weren't satisfied.

"I voted against this and I guess it doesn't matter because you're going to annex me," said a visibly upset Terry Gaffney.

"The saddest thing is it's divided the neighborhood," she said. "Now it's venom . . . The doughnuts are not bringing us together."

Some homeowners want to be part of Largo. Others don't. And there are those who are sitting on the fence.

The most vocal residents were disturbed by the way the city handled the annexation. A public hearing notice was published in the Tampa Tribune. The county on Oct. 5 voided the annexation because it failed to meet requirements for public notification.

"This has been the most confusing thing ever," said Frank Gaffney. "I don't know who to believe."

Last week, Brian Axley, president of the Wrens Way Homeowners Association, vice president Todd Cecil, and director Rick Ciatto resigned. New elections will be held Wednesday, said Loc Nguyen, the association's secretary.

The three said the city failed to keep its promises for incentives, including free trash service. The city says it never made those promises.

Axley showed the mayor a notarized letter from the city's annexation program planner, Lou Hilton, promising to pick up the tab for maintenance of the neighborhood's retention ponds.

The city, however, recently said it could not pay for the ponds' routine maintenance and mowing.

"I think we're obligated to live up to that," Jackson said later. "The county says we can't." The county in January said that Largo's offer to entice Cove Cay residents with similar incentives was illegal.

So the city now touts its recreational facilities and services.

Lorri Ciatto said she will have to shell out $21 more each month as a resident of Largo.

"I'm going to have to cut out Dairy Queen," she joked.

Lorraine Kenny, on the other hand, said she will save that same amount each month.

"I thought it was very nice," she said of Wednesday's neighborhood meeting.

Of her neighbors, 66-year-old Kenny pointed out: "They were acting very rowdy. I don't think it was polite. I wish they'd grow up."