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Community leaders to reach out

Westchase Community Association president Jim Mills came to a realization while attending a recent conference for homeowners' groups.

It came as he listened to a seminar leader talk about associations that have almost no positive interactions with their members, and then wonder why no one wants to participate in activities.

"Boy, did I sit back and say, "That is us,' " Mills told his fellow board members during a sparsely attended meeting Thursday.

He proposed that the group begin reaching out to residents in a friendly way, with no agenda except to meet and talk to people. His initial idea was to set up a booth at the Fall Fest at West Park Village on Oct. 31.

No one disagreed. In fact, they started kicking around other ways to build community goodwill.

Billy Kimberlin, voting member for the Keswick Forest village, suggested a Westchase barbecue.

"If you want to meet residents, that is a relatively inexpensive way to do it," Kimberlin said.

He agreed with Mills' assessment that the association needs to build positive relations.

"All I ever hear about is, "The homeowners association takes my (dues) check and sends me nastygrams,' " he said, referring to the enforcement letters that go to residents who violate deed restrictions.

Mills cautioned against such a large effort, noting that getting people to help set it up and run it could be problematic.

"Other communities cater," said Charlie Gauzza, voting member for the Kingsford village. "It comes from their dues."

The idea of spending money to improve the board's image did not ring true for some, though.

"I'm cheap," said Don Costello, board secretary. "I think residents would prefer not to spend money and lower their annual fee."

Ultimately the board agreed to participate in the Fall Fest, spending $250 for a booth and $100 for Halloween candy to hand out. The barbecue idea was set aside for the time.

Later in the evening, property manager Roganne Clark informed the board that she was preparing to send out violation notices to the newest addition to Westchase, a 76-unit townhome section near West Park Village. She said the townhomes were being built with their air conditioning units too visible to the roadway, against the deed restrictions.

Board members urged her to deal with the builder, rather than having the association's first contact with potential buyers be so negative. Otherwise, the board's attempts to better its public persona will be tested.

"Welcome to Westchase," Costello said with a half-laugh.

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (813) 269-5304 or