Tip List: Weeds choking Bellevue's green space

04/23/2009 12:01 AM

04/23/2009 12:04 AM

Bellevue Ranch is going to seed.

And I'm not talking about the unfinished houses' bleaching like bones in the sun. The development's landscaping is looking more like dried-out meadow than suburban putting greens. Once-healthy lawns are turning a crackly tan. Knee-high grass sways in the wind. Prickly weeds are springing up like, well, weeds.

Tip List was notified by e-mail of the horticultural problem by a resident.

Stephen Partridge wrote that Woodside Homes, one of the development's builders, stopped taking care of the grounds; then the city refused to do so. But each month he and his neighbors pays $158 each in extra taxes to the city for services at the development. "Basically Bellevue Ranch and the people who live there are being abandoned by the same city that APPROVED the development," he wrote.

Susan Mikkelsen, a librarian at UC Merced who also lives in Bellevue Ranch, agreed. She can't get in touch with Woodside Homes, the firm which built her house, but when she called the city, she was told that even though she and others are paying their special fees, there just aren't enough funds for the city to keep up the property. Woodside is not paying its fees for the development's empty lots either, she was told. "It's just a mess."

Woodside Homes, the builder of both Partridge and Mikkelsen's homes, didn't return two messages for comment.

Merced's Mayor Pro-Tem, John Carlisle, said he's aware of the issues. But it comes down to money. He said that Bellevue, like many of the city's developments, is in what are called Community Facilities Districts. The homeowners in each of these districts pay a special assessment for the upkeep of the landscaping.

The problem, said Carlisle, is that in this case, two few houses were completed for the fund to pay for the services. "I don't think there was any foresight in terms of trying to protect the CFD because at the time everybody was operating under the mistaken suspicion that all those houses were going to be built and occupied," he said.

What's the problem: the landscaping at Bellevue Ranch in north Merced is going to seed -- literally.

Who's responsible: The bankrupt developer Woodside Homes, which built many of the houses in the development, has left residents holding the leaf bag. Now there isn't enough money to pay for the services.

If you see something broken or in need of repair in your neighborhood, call the Sun-Star Tip List reporter, Jonah Owen Lamb, with your tips at (209) 385-2484 or e-mail jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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