FAIR OAKS RANCH — In a controversial move to fund planned park upgrades, the Fair Oaks Ranch Homeowners Association has voted to increase residential dues to $125 a year, a hike of $50.
Though some neighbors assailed the decision, which comes about the same time the city is raising property-tax rates, the increase is actually a compromise since board members originally wanted to double the annual fee by $75, or $150.
Nearly 100 people crowded the Oct. 2 meeting, with half electing to speak. Association President Carolyn Knopf assured homeowners the board wanted to know their thoughts.
“We have listened and heard you,” Knopf said. “We’re still neighbors and friends.”
The matter was originally scheduled for the Sept. 4 and Sept. 18 meetings, but the vote was delayed amid protests over the hike. A survey went out Sept. 12 querying households’ interest in adding a splash pad, a tree house playscape and a pickleball court, as well as exercise and bird-watching stations.
The amenities are part of a proposed 2019 Parks Master Plan with an estimated price tag of nearly $4 million to improve both Vestal and Boots Gaubatz parks, taking an estimated 11 years to complete.
Survey responses convinced FORHA to scale back some of the plans, for now.
Though many cities employ parks and recreation departments, in Fair Oaks Ranch the association is tasked with upkeep and maintenance of recreation areas.
“We spent hours going over this survey and budget, and after getting feedback from the community, we have results that are without emotion or personal agenda,” Knopf told a packed house. “We are people just like you, with kids, grandkids and jobs. Not everyone can be happy, but that’s just the nature of change.”
The growing city of about 9,000 is experiencing an influx of younger families with children, pushing the drive for enhancements to the parks, city officials have said.
Just after the meeting started, the board went into executive session with attorney Peter Kilpatrick for 30 minutes, and then emerged to discuss the survey.
More than 1,200 homeowners responded during a two-week period, with 52 percent saying they are park users.
According to the results, many of the amenities were rejected except for a pavilion and creek drainage at Vestal and new playground equipment at Boots Gaubatz.
“We’ve never had this level of understanding of who uses the parks,” said Debra Grandjean, vice president. “We’re keeping it natural but enhancing it as the budget allows. We’re not going to waste money. What you voted for is very reasonable. You made your voice heard and wanted the parks to be natural. We heard you and listened.”
Chuck Rohrig, who campaigned at the assembly for a splash pad, said young families who took the survey were absent from the session.
“The majority of the people at the meeting didn’t represent the survey,” Rohrig said. “They were people who were against the parks and didn’t understand what they (FORHA) were asking for. I didn’t think we went far enough — I wanted splash pads, which are available in other neighborhoods, even those less affluent than ours. But, I support the board and think they have a hard job.”
During the presentation, many folks expressed confusion over how the survey results were obtained and what the questions meant.
At one point, when board members discussed still wanting to raise dues $60 per year, or $135 per home even without the additions, many groused.
“Such an increase seems to be excessive,” said Conrad Fothergill, a 23-year resident. “FORHA has operated with restraint for many years and now is not the time to change.”
The motion to raise assessments by an additional $60 failed.
After the gathering, some residents such as Christine Graham expressed disappointment.
“It didn’t make sense,” Graham said. “How can you take as much out of the parks and go from $3.6 million to $2.4 million? They took way more than that in my opinion. … I find it irresponsible to be increasing a budget by 89 percent when we’ve only had a 29 percent growth in new homes. I don’t understand how you increase it that much. We’re shocked and dismayed.”