CDD 4 preps for potential lawsuit against owners of sinkhole-damaged homes

Community Development District 4 supervisors have voted to lay the groundwork to potentially file a lawsuit against the owners of sinkhole-damaged homes in the Village of Calumet Grove.

This week, District officials and legal counsel were incredulous when they were not even allowed to speak before a Marion County code enforcement board which granted Frank and Jan Neumann an extension on their uninhabitable home on McLawren Terrace. The extension allows the couple and their attorney more time to do battle with their insurance company. The extension will get them until the end of March, more than a year after the first sinkholes forced them from their home.

Sturdier barricades have been set up on McLawren Terrace at the site of two homes uninhabitable since sinkholes opened up in February.

As the Neumanns continue their fight, their former neighbors are left with a public safety hazard and sinking property values. Some of those neighbors attended the code enforcement hearing on Wednesday and were angry that they were also denied the opportunity to speak.

District Counsel Valerie Fuchs laid out the options for the board, which included a lawsuit against the homeowners and an appeal of the Marion County code enforcement board’s decision. The appeal would appear to be futile, in light of the icy reception earlier this week.

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

“I personally think we have to do something. It seems Marion County was forgetting about this part of Marion County, which is absolutely unacceptable,” said CDD 4 Supervisor Cliff Wiener. “This just can’t drag on any longer.”

His fellow supervisors agreed.

“This is an extreme public safety hazard,” said CDD 4 Supervisor Mark Hayes.

The board voted to spend up to $7,500 in additional legal fees in the exploration of the possible lawsuit. This comes on top of a current legal tab of nearly $7,000 already rung up in this case. The lawsuit could target both the Neumanns and the owner of the home previously resided in by Doris Morrill.

The goal of the lawsuit would be to spur the homeowners into action to stabilize the properties, make a decision about what is to be done and move on.

CDD 4 has $900,000 in pipe and intersection repairs on the horizon, with $200,000 already spent on grout, Community Watch personnel and other sinkhole-related expenses. Earlier this year, CDD 4 supervisors made the painful decision to raise by 20 percent the maintenance assessment rates paid by residents.