Legal action possible following county’s response to sinkhole issue in The Villages

Supervisors in Community Development District 4 learned several things Friday about the ongoing sinkhole issue in the Village of Calumet Grove – none of which they considered good news.

Villager Doris Morrill, whose Villages home on McLawren Terrace is owned by an estate, apparently is in the process of selling to a company that purchases damaged houses.

District Manager Richard Baier shared a letter he’d receive from the Marion County Board of Supervisors regarding two homes on McLawren Terrace that were decimated by sinkholes in the early-morning hours of Feb. 15 and again in May.

Baier said the District has been pushing for action that would lead to ground stabilization around the damaged homes so crews can begin to assess the damaged to the closed street in front of the homes and the stormwater drain pipe that runs between the two properties.

But Baier said the letter indicates that Marion County officials apparently believe they’ve done their part by ordering residents Doris Morrill and Frank and Jan Neumann from their ravaged homes. The letter points out that there were three options on the properties – repair, vacation or demolition. And it says that having the Villagers vacate their homes satisfies the requirements of the county’s Building Abatement Code.

A crack in the front of Doris Morrill’s home appears to have gotten bigger in the past few months.

The letter also said that both homeowners still have time to remedy the situations with their properties. It claims that the sale of Morrill’s home, which is owned by an estate, is imminent, so “we have taken a position to postpone taking further action to remedy the violation until the property ownership has been conveyed.” When that happens, the letter adds, the new property owner will be served with a notice about the unsafe structure on the property.

Finally, the letter claims that gauges installed on the homes after the sinkholes opened up in February shows that there’s been “minimal movement,” with one instrument showing a .335-inch shift. So the county doesn’t plan to install any other gauges to detect shifting in the structures, the letter adds.

But Baier and outgoing CDD 4 Board Chairman Paul Kelly argue Marion County officials are missing the point. Both agreed that the main issue now should be getting the property stabilized.

Frank and Jan Neumann’s home on McLawren Terrace has been vacated since the early morning of Feb. 15, when a series of sinkholes plagued the Calumet Grove neighborhood.

In July, three reports – two geotechnical and one structural – all made it quite clear that Morrill’s home and the lot it sits on are quite unstable and dangerous at best. And two of the reports said her home isn’t salvageable and must come down.

The letter from Marion County, however, states that its Unsafe Building Abatement Code applies only to structures, not the “ground conditions” on the property they are located on.

Apparently, both Morrill and the Neumanns have no intention of returning to their homes in the future and both are hoping to sell to a company that purchases damaged houses. And he reiterated that he would like to see Marion County do some preliminary ground stabilization and put more monitors on the homes to show how much they are shifting.

A section of McLawren Terrace remains closed in the Village of Calumet Grove following sinkhole activity in the neighborhood in February and May.

CDD 4 supervisors made it clear that they want the issue in their district taken care of as soon as possible. They pointed out that the sinkholes already have cost them more than $560,000 and the problem is creating massive anxiety for residents in the Calumet Grove neighborhood. And they said their biggest concern is the public safety issues caused by the unstable structures, the large sinkholes in the yards – one right outside the Neumann’s lanai door is at least 35 feet deep – and the obvious unstable ground conditions that exist on the two properties.

District Counsel Valerie Fuchs said the District is preparing to send Marion County a response to its letter and that legal action may be the only recourse. Baier agreed and then warned supervisors that both Morrill and the Neumanns have hinted at filing suit against CDD 4 over the entire sinkhole issue.

Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon, the crack in the front of Morrill’s home clearly appears to have gotten bigger in the past couple of months. Her yard is completely overgrown with weeds and tall grass. And the roadway in front of both of the damaged home remains closed – which is continuing to be a huge concern to the frazzled residents who live in the area and are in fear of further sinkhole activity and the likelihood of declining property values.