U.S. 98 landscaping

A grant paid for the county to landscape a portion of the U.S. 98 median near Sugarmill Woods, but the Oak Village homeowners association is tasked with annual maintenance.

Someone at Oak Village had an idea.

With the Suncoast Parkway coming through and more people moving to Citrus County, what better way to showcase the Sugarmill Woods community than by beautifying the U.S. 98 highway leading there?

So in 2019, community leaders approached the county with an offer: The state has landscape grants available. If the county applied for one, received it, and hired a contractor to landscape a mile section of the median, the Oak Village homeowners association would assume annual maintenance, according to county documents.

Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle

That’s what happened. The county received a $350,411 grant, hired a Homosassa company to do the work, and the landscaping was installed a year ago.

And that’s about when the complaints started.

David Quinn, a former Oak Village property owners association president who has been thrust back into the same role during the median controversy, said residents were up in arms when the plants began dying, or were stolen, or run over by vehicles skipping off the pavement.

Then they learned the annual maintenance costs were estimated at $37,000 — a hefty amount for a community of about 3,000 residents who pay $135 annual dues.

Quinn said he knew nothing about the project until about a year ago when his neighbors noticed the condition of the landscaping and the cost, and asked him about it.

“What they were in the dark about was all the dead plants out there they were going to be paying for,” he said.

The arrangement called for the contractor to maintain the landscaping for one year before turning it over to Oak Village. The year was up Friday, July 2, but county officials said the contractor is replacing plants lost and they expect the maintenance turnover to occur by August.

Quinn and the Oak Village property owners association tried to stop it. They, the county and contractor agreed to ditch the landscaping altogether by ripping it out and re-seeding the median.

FDOT officials signed off on the plan and said the county would not need to repay the grant.

County commissioners, however, would not go along.

When the matter came up during the Tuesday, June 22 meeting, commissioners said Oak Village made a promise and should uphold its end of the arrangement.

“I’m quite perturbed by this whole thing,” Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said.

Commissioners said removing the landscaping would place the county in a difficult position in applying for more state grants.

“Maybe they’ll never give another one of these,” Kitchen said. “It looks bad. Put taxpayers money in the ground and plow it over. It just turns my stomach.”

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said he saw for himself what happened in the months after the landscaping was planted.

“It was equally shocking how fast and how many of those plants died over a relatively short period of time,” he said. “It went from beautiful green landscaping to a sea of dead plants down the median of 98.”

Quinn, in an interview, said he doesn’t know how Oak Village will handle the maintenance.

“I can’t have our residents straddled like this financially,” he said.

Then, though, he added: “We have no choice.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.

(7) comments

JC

[unsure] One has to wonder what tax payer obligation and taking of private property rights all these grants have that Citrus has/is getting.

MAEL

Perhaps they should have landscaped with native plants ( that are drought tolerant) that don't need to be watered every few days (except for initially to get them established) and then they wouldn't have to worry about the plants dying OR wasting water to keep them alive after they are established.

FrankM

We Oak Village homeowners were not asked about any of this. The Board made a decision and now we are stuck with the costs? What do the County Commissioners have to do with any of this. 98 is a state highway. FDOT said dig the plants out and reseed, so dig out and reseed. I guess Kitchen doesn't have a problem putting out money for something he never voted on, but several residents do. So just do what the state sys is OK and dig them out.

jens

Did you read the story? Your representatives approached the BOCC and asked them to apply for the grant. Perhaps you should place the responsibility where it belongs. You elected your Oak Village board. They should have read the contract and the ramifications.

FrankM

Did you read my comment? It specifically says the Oak Village Board made the decision to go ahead without any notification to homeowners beforehand nor any vote by the homeowners for approval.. We had no say in the matter. The FDOT apparently recognizes the futility of trying to make this fiasco better so has given the approval to dig out and reseed. Trying to keep up the so called median landscaping would be a futile effort. The County Commissioners are worried about the possibility if future grants being denied? Where did the FDOT or State imply that? A mistake was made. The correction is approved. The Commissioners never made any mistakes or never squandered taxpayer monies? Perhaps you should do a little research into consulting contracts the Commissioners have contracted for that amounted to nothing but money down the drain. The recent animal shelter is a classic example. Trying to maintain the status quo when it's obviously based on a mistake is nothing more than a bigger mistake. Digi out and reseed.

michaelengiles

The contract with the landscaper was apparently too loose.

The maintenance fee is $12-$13/year…suspect neighborhood beautification would add to home values.

crizor

It seems that they could have found a better use for $350,000.00. Something that doesn't require constant upkeep. FDOT never ceases top amaze me how they can find a way to waste taxpayers money. For that amount of money they could have gone down the road and installed a traffic light at 491 and 98 junction instead of a future Round a bout.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for reading!

Please purchase a subscription to read our premium content. If you have a subscription, please log in or sign up for an account on our website to continue.