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.
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.”