Michael Cannata’s Story: Flooding in Zephyrhills

I was born and raised in the Marine Park neighborhood in Brooklyn. After getting married in 1983, we decided to move east into Long Island with my parents and raised two kids. I’m now the proud grandfather of four, 3 little ones and a 16 year old. My wife of 33 years, Joy, held a job at Chase Manhatten Bank and for the better part of 30 years, I worked in the ATM and POS industry.

We decided to move from Long Island to Florida in 2001 to escape the cold. In 2010 (at age 52), the company I was working with eliminated my position. Given my unexpected early retirement, my wife and I decided it was time to sell our home in Tampa and seek out an affordable retirement community. We decided to move into Crystal Lake, a 55+ community located in Zephyrhills, Florida in 2014.

The move for us was initially an ideal one. We were able to be closer to my daughter who lives in Wesley Chapel. Also, when you drive into the community, at first glance, it’s visually a nice place. People living here assist each other and watch out for each other. In hindsight though, I wish we never bought into the property.

In the two years that we have lived here, the park has flooded to the point where some residents are unable to get in and out. The flooding issue has been going on since 2012.  Prior to us moving in, this issue was not disclosed to us. This flooding issue is a direct health and safety issue affecting our community where many of our residents are over the age of 75.

The community is owned by Equity Life Style Properties, Inc. ELS has taken no action to correct this issue over these several years and the problem occurs over and over again and gets worse each year.

We have heard horror stories from residents who had to climb a fence to exit the community or the resident whose husband has Alzheimers and was panicked worrying over whether emergency vehicles or family would be able to access them if needed. A dialysis patient was afraid to leave home for treatment as their vehicle was very low to the ground and could not navigate the flooded streets. One resident became disoriented driving in the dark through the water. Many residents have had issues driving through the flooded streets. Air conditioners were flooded and many had water under their homes as well as water over their electrical service.

The flooding issues here have been occurring over a long period of time with ELS taking no action to correct the drainage issues here. Pasco County Engineers have submitted to ELS suggestions for corrective actions for the flooding issue but no action has been taken so far. We have had Representatives from Pasco County, County Commissioner Mike Moore, State Representative of the 38th District Dan Burgess and Southwest Florida Water Management District representative John Powanda on site advising the ELS manager.

The retention ponds that ELS is responsible for taking care of, have not been kept up. They haven’t installed any flooding prevention systems like a pumping station. The only one that seems to care and trying to alleviate the issue is Pasco County. Pasco County came in an offered to come and put additional pumps in, but the on-site manager denied the access to do so.

Every year ELS raises our rent. For what? So we can face living life in a flooded out community. Living here has become both a health and safety issue as well as a financial burden for many. We are seeking assistance to ensure that this very serious issue is resolved by ELS before next year’s rainy season and before any expansion occurs. It is unfathomable that we senior citizens are forced to deal with this issue at this time in our lives. When we raise these issues, the park manager’s response is routinely ‘You don’t like it, sell your home.’

We need to band together to fight this predatory style of ownership and to ensues that all families can live out a happy, healthy and affordable retirement. I’m going to assist my community members to talk to our federal and state level elected officials to ensure that they invest in our communities.