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Plant City Observer Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 3 months ago

Commissioners ‘frustrated’ by Walden Lake

During Monday night’s meeting commissioners voiced their irritation with the state of Walden Lake and began talking about using ‘every power available’ to get the situation straightened out.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

City Commission took an unexpected turn Monday night when commissioners voiced their frustrations with the state of Walden Lake Golf & Country Club.

The often controversial status of the upkeep of the golf course in Walden Lake has led to numerous

The pool has moved beyond being covered in algae and is now a deep black color. It is closed to the public.

phone calls and emails to city commissioners, according to City Manager Bill McDaniel. On Monday night they shared their equal dissatisfaction with the handling of the property with the public.

“I just think at this point in time, myself and I’m guessing the other members of this commission and definitely the residents of Walden Lake right now are getting to their wits’ end on the condition of the country club,” Mayor Rick Lott said.

McDaniel said Today’s Bank, owner of the former golf course and clubhouse, recently fired its relatively new contractor and rehired its former contractor to handle the mowing and maintenance of the property.

The city is essentially “handcuffed” regarding Walden Lake, explained Vice Mayor Nate Kilton, due to “the potential for anybody that purchased a property to want to have a potential land use or zoning change.” He said everyone sitting up on the dais feels frustrated about the situation, but that there is little they can say without causing further problems.

The course should be mowed so the grass is ten inches or shorter at all times. This only applies within 200 feet from the roadway.

“There’s only so much that we can do personally in that conversation and that really is a challenge for all of us,” Kilton said “I just want to make sure people don’t think that we don’t care and we’re not trying to come up with a resolution to the problem because we all want to see that happen, but we just can’t be engaged in it because of the challenges that we have with our state statutes.”

McDaniel assured transparency was his utmost priority, however, and announced as a response the city now has a new page on its website that is home to and constantly updated with information about Walden Lake. It also currently states Today’s Bank has an agreement with Plant City Police Department where anyone found trespassing on the course or clubhouse property will be arrested.

The site will be updated either daily or every other day and should soon contain updates on conversations between the city and Today’s Bank or the mowing contractor, as well as copies of the ordinances and the codes regarding the property.

The standard for the property is no longer that of a golf course. The grass should be 10 inches or shorter and the contractor only has to mow within 200 feet from roadways. Any further in, essentially the very middle of the former golf course, can be let go.

“I think we’re at a consensus up here that enough is enough and we want to see action,” Lott said.

The contractor must mow within 200 feet of all roadways.

Several commissioners seemed to be ready to use their power to begin reprimanding Today’s Bank. Commissioner Bill Dodson said they should put their frustrations in writing, form a resolution and send it to the bank to state it has not met the requirements and could be cited for negligence of failing to meet the standards.

The tennis courts mentioned by commissioner Mary Mathis are in disrepair at Walden Lake.

Commissioner Mary Mathis reflected on the time she used to spend on the tennis courts at Walden Lake. Those, the clubhouse itself and the pool she believed are “in dire need” of fixing up.

McDaniel said none of the facilities were open to the public anymore, but they had discussed the state of the pool with the bank. He assured her the city would work with the bank to continue efforts to get things fixed.

Kilton explained that if Today’s Bank failed to meet the required standards the city could potentially retaliate by putting its teams to work on its maintenance and thus put a lien on the property.

Commissioner Mike Sparkman agreed with the rest of the commissioners that this was a vexing situation. He said he had never seen “anything of this magnitude take so long.” The fallen and the “dangerous trees,” the wild, unmowed and “butchered grass” all along the course are things he said the bank needs to get fixed immediately.

“Code enforcement is for people that will be good, law-abiding citizens,” Sparkman said. “When somebody bucks the system, well, there’s not much we can do about it. But I would be willing to file suit against them or a code enforcement lawsuit against them. I’m here. Whatever it takes. I’ve had it, I’m sick of it and I’m sick of not being able to, the people that have been complaining about it for years, I’ve not been able to do a — what the Lord would say— a damn thing about it and I’m sick of it.”

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