Villagers fed up with gridlock on sinkhole damage taking their plight to Marion County commissioners

Weary residents in the Village of Calumet Grove are fed up with dealing with a sinkhole nightmare that first ravaged their neighborhood last February.

On Tuesday, they plan to make those feelings known to Marion County commissioners. And they’re going to ask for help in getting issues surrounding two heavily damaged homes and a dilapidated roadway repaired once and for all.

McLawren Terrace is still blocked and two severely damaged homes remain in the Village of Calumet Grove almost 15 months after sinkholes first ravaged the neighborhood.

“This area was damaged 15 months ago and we have had roadblocks up since that time,” said Barbara Gaines, who represents the 111 frustrated homeowners who are part of the Buds and Blossoms social group. “And every time it rains, we have more deterioration of this area.”

The area of Calumet Grove around McLawren Terrace and McAlpin Street was rocked to its core last Feb. 15 when sinkholes opened up in the wee hours of the morning. Resident Doris Morrill had to be rescued from her highly unstable home at 17092 McLawren Terrace. And her neighbors, Frank and Jan Neumann, at 17086 McLawren Terrace, also were forced to flee their damaged home, which had a 35-foot-deep sinkhole right outside the door to their lanai.

Three months later, the neighborhood was rocked a second time when four new sinkholes opened up. A large portion of the pavement on McLawren Terrace opened up in front of the two damaged homes. And frazzled neighbors found themselves living on pins and needles as they feared the possibility of another round of sinkholes coming at any minute.

Many in the neighborhood believe a damaged stormwater pipe that runs between the two homes played a role in the sinkholes. Others say there must be issues with the infrastructure in their neighborhood. And many want to move but say it’s impossible to sell their homes with two eyesores and a blocked-off street in their neighborhood.

Barbara Gaines, second from right, and members of the Buds and Blossoms social club are taking the issue of their sinkhole damaged neighborhood in front of Marion County commissioners on Tuesday morning.

Morrill and the Neumanns no longer live in the neighborhood. After some lengthy wrangling over insurance and the value of the two homes, the damaged structures are now owned by Asset Trust Holdings, which has announced plans to make repairs to the houses and then resell them.

But little has changed at the McLawren Terrace properties since last February. The residents have been told that the damaged roadway can’t be repaired until the two properties at 17092 and 17086 McLawren Terrace have been stabilized. And they’re simply tired of waiting for something to happen.

Aerial photos show the devastation that residents of the Village of Calumet Grove have been putting up with since Feb. 15, 2018.

“We’re concerned about how safe it is for the rest of us,” Gaines said, pointing out that a temporary pump has been in place for months to reroute storm water away from the damaged pipe. “There are 75 homes that rely on coming down McAlpin Street and if it erodes like (McLawren Terrace), we are going to be stuck down there.”

Gaines said the pump that is parked next to a storm drain on Locustwood Court is creating a dangerous traffic issue.

“Workers are parking on that street and we can’t see what’s coming,” she said. “And it’s a concern for fire engines and ambulances because it’s very, very narrow.”

McLawren Terrace remains blocked in front of two sinkhole-ravaged homes in the Village of Calumet Grove.

Jo Bielicki, co-president of the Buds and Blossoms group, added that she’s witnessed another safety concern many times since the pavement on McLawren Terrace collapsed.

“When the garbage trucks come up, they have to go all the way around and then back all the way down the street” she said. “That’s really dangerous.”

Village of Calumet Grove resident Ginny Porubski, who lives on McAlpin Street, collects signatures for a petition that will be presented to Marion County commissioners on Tuesday morning.

Gaines said another concern is the fact the neighborhood has dealt with the eyesore of the two damaged homes with overgrown lots for more than a year.

“We’re very concerned that our property values are going to go down as a result of that,” she said. “All of us pay amenity fees and we pay taxes to get this infrastructure built. Obviously, there’s an issue with this infrastructure and we want it fixed now.”

Gaines said that after purchasing the damaged homes, Asset Trust Holdings received extensions from Marion County to make needed repairs. She said the time for such delays in getting the properties fixed should come to end and she and her neighbors plan to make that clear to county commissioners with a petition that has been signed by many area residents.

The devastation from sinkholes last February and May remains in the Village of Calumet Grove and has caused consternation and angst for the 111 families who must deal with the situation on a daily basis.

“We are asking the commission to read the engineer’s report that talks about what this damage was,” she said, referring to reports that have shown how unstable the ground is under the two houses and the fact that Morrill’s former home was deemed unsalvageable. “Before they give any kind of extension again, they should consider that report.”

Gaines said the commission also needs to think about the other 111 homeowners in the neighborhood who are tired of suffering.

“We want them to set some kind of timeline to get this finished,” she said. “In about six or seven weeks, we’ll start having the rainy season for The Villages. Those rains are going to continue for days and days on end, and that’s going to erode this more.”

Gaines said water rushing down McAlpin Street and Locustwood Court durin storms sometimes gets to be 10-12 inches deep – and there are actually fish on the street.

“It’s terrible,” she said.

Gaines added that she and her neighbors never expected to have to deal with a such a horrific issue when they decided to retire to The Villages.

“Never,” she said quietly. “It was like golf courses and riding around in the golf cars and enjoying a beautiful neighborhood.”

Frank and Jan Neumann’s sinkhole-damaged home was sold to Asset Trust Holdings and has been vacant since last February.

In fact, Gaines said, she and many others have become disillusioned with The Villages and the retirement dream they supposedly bought into.

“I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve considered moving here who’ve said, ‘If they don’t take care of business better than this, The Villages isn’t the place for us,’” she said. “It’s like once the community is built, they move onto the next one. Now they’re way south of us and they’re just not concerned about us. We feel like we’re forgotten.”

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners meeting gets under way Tuesday, April 2 at 9 a.m. The meeting will take place at the McPherson Governmental Complex, 601 SE 25th Ave. in Ocala. The presentation by Gaines is scheduled to take place shortly after the meeting begins.

The home that Doris Morrill used to live in at 17092 McLawren Terrace continues to show cracks and damage from last year’s sinkholes.