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"Private' road may not stay so private

Visitors need a special code, or a friend who lives inside, to drive through the gate that blocks the entrance to Stonebridge.

That's the way people in this Westchase neighborhood want to keep it: peaceful and private.

They worry, though, that a developer's plan to build 18 townhomes just east of their 68-home community could upset the calm they have come to enjoy. The only access to the land is Stonebridge's private road, Bridgeton Drive, which dead-ends at a padlocked wooden fence.

Developer Navpreet Randhawa intends to use Bridgeton Drive for his project, relying on a right of passage easement that Westchase's developers sold to the original landowners seven years ago.

Based on rumors alone _ Randhawa, landowner John Bailey and Stonebridge residents have yet to speak to each other _ the Stonebridge Homeowners Association already has contacted lawyers to block the use of Bridgeton Drive.

"We have been to an attorney on the basis of what we know and do not know," association president Duke Tully said. "That just tells you, if you're coming, bring money because there's going to be a fight."

Tully acknowledged the association is basing its early actions on hearsay. But he remained confident that the easement would be void if the 5 acres to the east are split and sold to multiple owners.

He pointed to a clause in the agreement, which states, "if in the future (the) parcel is subdivided into more than one building site," the easement automatically terminates.

"There was a right of way granted to the previous owner for trucks for farming. But that's different than opening it up to a development," he said. "We have talked to legal counsel and they tell us we're in the right and they're in the wrong."

Randhawa said he and Bailey want to be good neighbors. Just plowing through is in no one's interest, he offered. Yet he maintains the easement language allows clear access to the land.

"When people are not aware or they don't have information, their thoughts run wild," Randhawa said last week. "I think we can win over maybe the majority."

The details he plans to focus on are financial and aesthetic.

The townhomes would be high-end, and should help raise property values for the Stonebridge neighbors, Randhawa said. In time, he added, the development wants to help pay for upkeep of the road as an extension of Westchase.

Six homes per upland acre is not unusual for Westchase, he continued, and certainly not out of line with Stonebridge.

Nor is it illogical to assume that someone would extend Bridgeton Drive one day, in order to develop his land for more homes. Perhaps people just thought it would never happen, because they've seen no activity for seven years.

The issue remains in just the talking stages. Hillsborough County has received no rezoning applications, which would be necessary to put so many homes on the land. It's now zoned for agriculture or one single-family home per acre.

The Westchase East Community Development District also must weigh in, because it owns and maintains Bridgeton Drive and the gate outside Stonebridge. Chairman John Love said he expected the question to boil down to a legal one.

"It probably has to go to court," Love said.

That hasn't stopped Stonebridge homeowners from making their feelings known to CDD board members.

"There are some e-mails floating around. Residents are guessing," board member Lewis Patterson said. "They are upset because they think this developer wants access to his property through their gated community, and obviously they don't want that."

The CDD board is scheduled to review the matter at its Jan. 4 meeting. The Stonebridge Homeowners Association plans to have Randhawa address its members on Jan. 13.

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

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