Agreement aims to move large dirt pile at Lakota
April 16, 2010
The large dirt piles that have been looming on the fringes of Winter Park’s Lakota Park Subdivision for the past two years will be removed this summer after an agreement between developer Rick Hermes of HFM Holdings and landowner Vernon Moore of Lakota Land Group (LLG).
The Town of Winter Park signed off on its part of the deal Tuesday morning, agreeing to release $130,000 from its Subdivision Infrastructure Agreement letter of credit to help with the removal of an estimated 55,000 cubic yards of dirt stockpiled on two sites in Lakota Park, one in the north village and one in the south village. HFM’s insurance company will fund the remaining $470,000.
Construction crews created the dirt piles in the process of excavating Central Village more than two years ago. The stockpiles – meant to be temporary – were left without proper grading, seeding or silt fencing, when the North and South villages went into foreclosure, reverting back to the original landowner.
The piles have since sat unattended while the developer and landowner litigated issues ranging from the liability and cost of removing the dirt to charges concerning illegal placement of the piles and lack of permitting for the grading.
Town Manager Drew Nelson emphasized that the town’s contribution to the project isn’t coming out of its general fund but is coming strictly out of the SIA letter of credit, which is essentially a construction bond provided by the developer at the start of construction. The $130,000 was already slated as a “dirtwork” line item in the original SIA, Nelson said. A total of $2.4 million remains in the letter of credit with the town at this time.
“The amount of money being used to move dirt would have been released anyway. It’s just being released early so they can get it done,” explained Winter Park’s attorney John Hayes.
The $600,000 dirt removal fund will pay for an estimated 4,000 truckloads of dirt to be hauled away as well as the grading, seeding and erosion measures to follow.
What happens to the subdivision’s private roads after some 4,000 dumptrucks rumble across them is of great concern to Lakota’s homeowners association, which is responsible for maintaining them.
“As far as taking the dirt away and restoring the land back to the way it was, that’s great with us. We want that to happen,” said association president Charles Banks in advance of Tuesday’s meeting.
“But, those trucks are going to cause wear and tear on our roads,” he said. “The HOA wants some guarantee from the developer and landowner that its roads will be repaired when the work is complete.”
On April 1, the parties held a mediation with hopes of moving forward and ending the ongoing litigation. After 11 hours of deliberation, an agreement was reached that included: A division between HFM and LLG of the six affordable housing units to be built per the 2005 development agreement with the town; HFM waiving its rights to use the Lakota Owners Association property for its sales trailer, allowing LLG to negotiate a lease for that purpose; and, HFM entering into a cost-sharing agreement with the HOA with respect to the maintenance, repair and replacement of roads in the subdivision, among other things.
On its behalf, the town requested a maximum price contract on the project in lieu of the standard financial surety.
While town council unanimously approved the agreement to move the piles, it indefinitely tabled a request from Lakota Land Group to set aside $120,000 out of the SIA letter of credit should the project go into default.
That money, said LLG attorney Mike Repucci, would reimburse LLG for any expenses above and beyond the $600,000 incurred following the removal of the dirt piles.
Noting that the landowner is “picking up significant responsibility” in hopes of moving the issue out of litigation and getting the dirt piles removed as soon as possible, Repucci asked the council to set aside the money as a recognition of the landowners “show of good faith.”
But, council member Jimmy Lahrman said such a move would be “shortsighted.” Council has already stated concern as to whether there is enough money in the letter of credit – should the developer default – to complete infrastructure work such as paving roads, building retaining walls and stabilizing the retention ponds. Given that, Lahrman said that the town doesn’t have enough information to make a financial commitment to LLG at this point.
The Lakota Homeowners Association also spoke against the resolution.
“Lakota Land Group is asking the town to commit money from a letter of credit that town holds for completion of subdivision infrastructure. We are very much opposed to that. Our feeling is that the letter of credit is to complete infrastructure in Lakota Park,” Banks explained.
The board voted 5-1 to table Repucci’s request. Mayor pro-tem Chris Seemann was the sole dissenting vote.
– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.