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The Villages
Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Villages 101: Easter 2014 saw high drama as massive sinkhole had The Villages on edge

Villagers are quite familiar with the ongoing sinkhole issue that’s plagued the Village of Calumet Grove for the past 15 months. But many probably aren’t aware that a similar situation happened in the Village of Buttonwood five years ago on Easter weekend when a massive sinkhole threatened to swallow two homes.

A massive sinkhole opened up on Chalmer Terrace in the Village of Buttonwood in April 2014.

The normally quiet neighborhood, affectionately known as Buttonwood Heights, was rocked by the gigantic 60-foot-deep sinkhole, which was positioned between two homes located at 2057 and 2051 Chalmer Terrace. The sinkhole had started forming a few days earlier but it expand rapidly on the day before Easter.

“I was out there golfing. We saw it when it started to form,” said Paul Murray, who lived a stone’s throw away in the Village of Pennecamp and was one of many nervous neighbors walking the street and checking out the hole that had yellow tape around it. “Now you see how much this thing has opened up.”

Cement trucks lined up on Chalmer Terrace in April 2014 to fill up a sinkhole.

Cement trucks lined Chalmer Terrace and crews worked through the night in an effort to save the two homes. On Easter Sunday morning, the lead geologist on the project, Drew Glasbrenner, of Bracken Engineering of Tampa, proclaimed, “It’s a save.”

That statement followed a frantic effort by crews to pump a mixture of sand and cement into the massive sinkhole. Their efforts followed a collapse of ground cover at the site, which required a hurry-up, two-minute-drill approach to solve the issue before the homes were destroyed.

Geologist Drew Glasbrenner said he watched his children hunt Easter eggs on his phone from the sinkhole site in the Village of Buttonwood.

Glasbrenner said he received the call notifying him of the “cover collapse” at 10 a.m. the day before Easter. He worked through the night and had to miss out on an Easter Egg hunt that was planned with his children, ages 4 and 1.

“My wife hid eggs in the house last night,” he said at the time. “This morning, I watched the kids hunt for those eggs on my phone.”

The sinkhole on Chalmer Terrace had been pumped full of a sand and cement mixture in April 2014.

Glasbrenner said he was quite happy to see the Easter miracle of sorts for the two homeowners involved in the sinkhole nightmare. He said a worst-case scenario would have required the homes to be condemned, which would have been devastating for the property owners.

Easter Sunday saw Buttonwood Heights residents out and about in their golf carts. Gone were the cement mixers, Villages Public Safety vehicles, Community Watch personnel and Orlando television trucks. In their place were neighbors who were busy swapping stories about seeing the homes precariously perched on the cliff overlooking the 60-foot hole.

Crews worked through the night in April 2014 pumping a mix of sand and concrete into the sinkhole.

Rich and Liz Corr, who lived next door to the homes threatened by the sinkhole, returned from New York the day before Easter to find their neighborhood in chaos.

“Neighbors called to warn us. We had plenty of offers of a place to stay. People were afraid we might be out of our house, too,” Liz Corr said. “It’s a testament to the friends who live here that they would be worried about us at a time like this.”

Many in the neighborhood felt a sense of “luck” that their homes had not been impacted.

“But then you never know what is going to happen next,” Liz Corr said.

Neighbors checked out the sinkhole site on Chalmer Terrace in April 2014 in the Village of Buttonwood.

Little did she did know that just three days later, that statement would prove to be eerily true. Because once again, the normally quiet neighborhood of Buttonwood Heights was rocked to its core when a resident out for an early morning walk discovered that the sinkhole was back and had expanded by another 5 to 8 feet.

Crews from The Villages Public Safety Department and Community Watch scrambled to Chalmer Terrace and kept the curious media who were arriving in droves farther back than they had been allowed the previous weekend. And Rich Corr said he and Liz were packing their bags.

“We don’t know if we are going to have to go or what,” he said.

Corr said water had been shut off to several houses in the neighborhood, although their water was still on. And he added that several neighbors had been asked by Public Safety to move their vehicles out of the area.

The scene at the site of the sinkhole on Chalmer Terrace in the Village of Buttonwood in April 2014.

Once again, a steady stream of dump trucks ferrying in loads of fill dirt came roaring down Chalmer Terrace in an attempt to stabilize the unwieldy sinkhole that had neighbors on edge.

“It’s scary stuff,” said Ruth DiDomenico, who stood in her driveway a few houses away watching the big trucks roll in.

All told, about 20 trucks of fill dirt were dumped into the sinkhole in an attempt to stabilize it. Crews then prepared to closely monitor the situation for 24 to 48 hours to see how the dirt settled in.

A truck hauls in a load of dirt to fill in the sinkhole at Chalmer Terrace in the Village of Buttonwood.

The trucks hauling in the dirt were from Rainey Construction. Helicon Property Restoration was in charge of the site. And several insurance companies had personnel in the neighborhood to reassure homeowners of the situation.

Marilyn Johnson, who had lived in the Village of Silver Lake since 1991, pointed out that in her 23 years in The Villages, the Historic Side had not been hit by a tornado or had a sinkhole.

“Must be Harold,” she said of Harold Schwartz, founder of The Villages, who was known for getting out and walking the neighborhood while listening to residents’ concerns.

Dirt covers the sinkhole site on Chalmer Terrace in April 2014.

The following day, a Villages Public Safety official said the sinkhole had “stopped growing.” That followed the many truckloads of dirt that had been poured in the hole the day before and the work of a Bobcat operator to move the dirt into place and smooth things out.

The good news was that no one had to be evacuated from the neighborhood. The two homeowners had been away and missed out on the entire sinkhole drama. And Community Watch remained in the neighborhood to keep the steady stream of looky-loos a safe distance from the sinkhole.

Finally, on the Friday after Easter, the neighborhood once again made an attempt to return to normal. They had faced six days of sinkhole drama. And they were quite happy to see the exodus of the big dump trucks, the insurance agents, the Orlando television trucks and crews from The Villages Public Safety Department and Community Watch. In fact, the only reminder of the sinkhole was an employee from Helicon Property Restoration who was hosing down the street and keeping an eye on the filled-in sinkhole.

The two homes that were affected by the massive sinkhole in the Village of Buttonwood, shown on Easter weekend 2014 and this weekend five years later.

The two homes that had dangled on the edge of the sinkhole were still marked with bright orange signs declaring them uninhabitable. And the episode had stirred up a great deal of discussion among neighbors, many of whom were doing their best to learn more about the dangers of sinkholes and making sure they were carrying the proper insurance coverage.

Sumter County property records show that the house at 2051 Chalmer Terrace, which was built in 2010, is still owned by John and Barbara Bigos. They purchased the Designer home in May of 2012 and clearly weren’t scared away by the sinkhole.

The other home involved in the incident, at 2057 Chalmer Terrace, was sold to Leo J. Rourke in June 2016 – a little more than two years after the sinkhole opened up. Rourke lists a mailing address of Tomball, Texas, for the tax bill on his Designer home, which also was built in 2010.

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