People who don't live in Tampa Palms' Lancaster and Ashington Estates neighborhoods might not see the subtle differences.
They might not notice that Ashington Estates homes have shingle roofs while the Lancaster homes have fancier tile roofs, or that the former was built by Lennar Homes Inc. and the latter by luxury home builder Hannah Bartoletta. They probably can't tell where the $600,000 homes end and the $700,000-and-up homes begin.
But here in these adjoined communities, that dividing line matters.
Just over a month ago, Lancaster homeowners erected a gate on the neighborhoods' shared main vein of Emerald Chase Drive, preventing Ashington Estates people from entering or cutting through Lancaster's private roads to get to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard more quickly.
"We paid all the costs, we came to a unanimous decision as a community," Lancaster resident Matt Vogler said of the $55,000 gate. "And now we have what we were originally sold, which is a totally gated community."
It's also arrogant and insulting, say some in Ashington Estates, if not an encroachment on their quality of life. Those who live closest to the gate and were accustomed to taking shortcuts through Lancaster must now enter and exit through their own gate, which is considerably less convenient for some.
Trouble with maps
The barrier also creates confusion for anyone using online mapping services, such as MapQuest or Google Maps, which do not take dead-ending gates into account.
This was recently a problem for Ashington Estates' Michelle Ball, who lives in the cul-de-sac closest to the gate. Weeks ago, truck drivers trying to deliver a piano to her home were stymied when they tried to reach her home via Lancaster's side of Emerald Chase Drive, which an online map showed as the shortest route. She had to talk them through the alternate route, which she said was a hassle.
"Who's going to fix this problem?" Ball said. "I didn't ask for the gate. They should change the name of their part of the street."
On top of the inconvenience, Ball said, there are video cameras on the Lancaster side of the gate, pointed toward Ashington Estates as if trying to monitor its residents.
"It's a level of paranoia that I've not experienced before," Ball said.
Vogler, who lives near the barrier, says the gate has been vandalized several times over the past few months.
One driver rammed it with a vehicle, costing the Lancaster homeowners association thousands of dollars, and cameras also captured someone stealing bricks during its construction.
"I can't comment any more on that because there's an ongoing police investigation," Vogler said.
Not city's decision
For years, Ashington Estates and Lancaster blended as one neighborhood, with gates on either side of the subdivisions. Lennar (formerly U.S. Homes) originally owned the whole development before it sold half to Hannah Bartoletta four years ago, splitting the 106 properties in half. Lancaster has sought exclusivity from Ashington Estates for the past two years.
City of Tampa officials signed off on the gate's construction months ago, stipulating only certain safety requirements, such as a special access code for emergency vehicles and proper turnarounds on either side of the gate. Since the road the gate sits on is owned by Lancaster, the city couldn't do much about protests from Ashington Estates.
The city still hasn't heard the end of the issue.
"My file on this is huge," said assistant city attorney Rolando Santiago. "Easily over 100 e-mails," ranging from complaints about garbage trucks turning around in the grass by the gate to an unapproved padlock that was placed on the gate, then removed. A little girl from Lancaster recently fell and hurt her nose in Ashington Estates and some alleged that an ambulance had trouble getting through the gate. (Untrue, said Vogler.)
Yet the city's interest only goes so far when it comes to private streets. Some wondered, though, if maybe the city could have at least required Lancaster to build wider turnarounds or paint its pylons black instead of bright orange-yellow.
"It just seems like the city caved on everything," said Ashington Estates resident Ed Richardson.
The neighborhoods, however, won't let it go that easily. Threats of litigation, heated meetings and gate-related allegations have been part of life in the posh community for most of the year, creating a bit of a chill on both sides of the iron barrier.
"It's come down to a battle of wills and a battle of egos," Ball said. "No one can talk about anything but that stupid gate."
Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.