Frazzled Calumet Grove residents worried about property values, timeframe for sinkhole damage repairs

Calumet Grove residents are worried about more than just new sinkholes opening up in their neighborhood – an area that has been plagued with the issue since Feb. 15.

In May, a large sinkhole opened up on McLawren Terrace and in yards of homes that have been deemed unlivable.

They’re also extremely concerned about their property values as they wait for crews to repair a damaged intersection, storm drain and storm water pipe line. And they’re worried about two families that haven’t been able to return to their homes – one of which two engineering firms have recommended be condemned and demolished.

“We know that’s a problem,” Heidi Pfleger said about the potential hit the value of the home she and husband Richard own on McAlpin Street. “Not that I’m planning on moving, but you’d like to have the option.

“And let’s face it, as you can see, there’s not a single home for sale around here. Because what’s the point?”

A new section of pipe, right, was added recently to replace the one that was damaged when the sinkholes opened up in February. Many residents remain suspicious about the pipe and believe it contributed to the sinkholes, a claim District officials have vehemently denied.

Patricia Bielicki, who lives a few doors away on McLawren Terrace, agreed.

“Oh absolutely,” she said when asked if she’s concerned about her property value taking a hit because it’s near a site where multiple sinkholes have opened up in the past four months.

“But,” she added with a laugh, “when I leave here I’m going out feet first. So I hope by the time that happens nobody will remember the sinkholes.”

Frank and Jan Neumann stand in front of their sinkhole-damaged home last week.

Frank Neumann, who along with wife Jan owns one of the homes that’s been severely damaged and deemed unlivable, said he’s also concerned about his property value.

Neumann said he’s been instructed by his attorney to avoid talking about specifics regarding the damage to his home, but he was able to quickly call up a site on his cell phone that valued his home at what he said is considerably less than what it’s worth.

Since having to evacuate their home in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, the Neumanns have been living in a rental house in the Village of Piedmont. Frank Neumann, 80, said it’s a situation that’s been very “disruptive” for him and his 78-year-old wife.

Frank Neumann, whose home at 17086 McLawren Terrace was damaged by sinkholes in February, hired a geologist to help determine if it’s going to be safe for him and his wife to live there again.

“We’re displaced,” he said Friday afternoon, after taking photos of a crew filling in a smaller hole that opened up near the damaged drain in front of his house. “We had to take all of our furniture and put it into storage. And that’s going to cause harm to some of it because we don’t know how good that storage unit is.”

Jan Neumann agreed.

“We didn’t come here for this,” she said. “The stress level has been immense. We really don’t need this.”

Frank Neumann also said he noticed something “very disturbing” about his house after walking through it Friday afternoon.

“It stinks horribly because of the heat,” he said. “There’s no air conditioning, no electricity, no water or gas. Everything had to be shut off.”

Two engineering firms have recommended that widow Doris Morrill’s home on McLawren Terrace be demolished.

Early last week, Doris Morrill, who owns the home that engineers say must come down, said her attorney also told her not to talk about her house. But like the Neumanns, the 80-year-old widow said her life has been full of stress since she had to be rescued and removed from her home by Marion County deputies on the morning of Feb. 15

“It’s disrupting my entire lifestyle,” Morrill said. “I was expecting to have a peaceful and enjoyable retirement.”

Residents who live nearby also are feeling the strain of a situation that’s been dragging on for several months with no clear end in sight.

It’s nerve-racing,” said Pfleger. “We just don’t know just how far this is going to come. With each storm, naturally there’s going to be erosion,” she added, pointing a hole that was filled in recently in her neighbor’s yard.

Bielicki agreed.

“It looks to me it’s going to be a year before we’ll ever be able to drive down our street again,” she said. “It’s such an inconvenience.”

Sinkholes that opened up in the pavement on McLawren Terrace have been filled with dirt, but it’s not been deemed safe for workers to finish repairing the roadway and a pipeline that runs between two damaged homes.

Both Pfleger and Bielicki said they’d like for someone of authority to explain what’s happened to the neighborhood and then keep them informed throughout the process of getting it resolved.

“We are just totally disgusted and just wanting answers,” said Pfleger, who moved to The Villages after losing her home in Long Beach Island, N.J., to Superstorm Sandy in 2012. “And somebody take responsibility. They keep pushing it off on these people that own the homes. But in the interim, are we going to wait for other homes to be affected?”

Assistant District Manager Richard Baier said he understands the frustrations Calumet Grove residents are feeling, but he said work to fix the roadway and the damaged pipeline can’t take place until Morrill does something with her house and property. Baier cited three engineering reports – two geotechnical and one structural – that cite the instability of Morrill’s home and the property itself and recommend against any further work being done there until the situation is resolved.

“We’ve absolutely got to make sure it’s safe,” he said.

The washout near the storm inlet on McLawren Terrace in front of two sinkhole-damaged homes is believed to have been caused by standing water from a recent storm.