NORTH PORT — Developers at the Wellen Park communities have alerted homeowners of their posture in advance of a mid-April de-annexation hearing.
The issue centers around a Wellen Park group, West Villagers for Responsible Government, a political committee, pushing for de-annexation of that 8,000-plus-acre community from within North Port’s boundaries.
A spokesperson for West Villagers for Responsible Government, however, insisted Tuesday it has some 30% of resident support, that it is “acting in the interest of all homeowners,” according to details released Tuesday by members of that group.
But those developers, collectively known as Wellen Park LLLP, in a letter to homeowners listed alleged complications and costs residents would absorb should de-annexation move forward.
A related legal matter between developers and the West Villagers group is in 12th District Court on Wednesday, and North Port commissioners have a de-annexation feasibility study before them in mid-April.
“You have likely seen or heard about the petition for contraction/de-annexation lead by the West Villagers for Responsible Government, Inc.,” the developers’ letter, dated Monday, stated. “It’s essential for you to know the facts about what a potential contraction/de-annexation from the City of North Port means and the financial burden it will create for you.”
A spokesperson for Wellen Park LLLP couldn’t be immediately reached late Tuesday. But the letter asserts that the West Villagers group had made “many underestimated and unsubstantiated claims to reassure residents that their costs will decrease.”
The letter added: “However, costs will likely increase for owners within the contracted/de-annexed area, including: Up to a 20% increase in water/wastewater municipal services. The legal costs that will be required to untangle and restructure the 9 funding agreements between the WVID (West Villages Improvement District) and the City of North Port, estimated to cost a minimum of $750,000 in legal fees. These are fees that must be passed along to residents within the WVID.”
The letter stated new construction at Wellen Park would likely halt until legal matters relating to de-annexation were settled.
“It is not enough to stay silent or neutral on this issue when contraction/de-annexation will likely increase your costs and halt progress,” the letter noted.
Wellen Park is the former West Villages annexed into North Port around 2002. There are more than 12,000 combined acres and at full buildout will consist of 50,000 residents and 20,000 homes. Annexation was contested and ultimately settled in court.
John Meisel, president of the West Villagers group, filed an answering letter Tuesday, countering developers’ contentions were inaccurate and meant to “instill fear, uncertainty and doubt without any facts to substantiate it.”
Those Wellen Park developers had filed civil suits starting in September that sought a temporary stop or injunction to the de-annexation movement.
A Sarasota County circuit judge in January cited the West Villagers’ right to proceed under Florida constitutional rules.
Wellen Park developers had since requested a permanent injunction blocking West Villagers for Responsible Government, also asking North Port to end a de-annexation feasibility study and to grant Wellen Park its legal fees.
That study is due in April. City commissioners would review its findings and decide the next steps.
Lawyers for the West Village residents filed a counter-motion for dismissal, said Luke Lirot, Clearwater attorney for the West Villagers group. The heart of the issue, he said, was allowing his clients’ their “fundamental rights” to a legal remedy, arguing that punishing them with preemptive lawsuits is akin to suing another driver before an accident occurs.