Frazzled Villagers from sinkhole-ravaged neighborhood finally receive some good news

Article Courtesy of The Villages News
By  Larry D. Croom   
Published April 14, 2019


Frazzled Villagers who live in the sinkhole-ravaged Village of Calumet Grove learned three things Monday night during a sometimes contentious question-and-answer session at the Mulberry Grove Recreation Center.

Perhaps most important was the announcement that the stormwater drain system in their neighborhood will be rerouted away from a pipe that runs between two dilapidated homes.

Second, The Villages Developer has no intention of getting involved in the situation that started in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, 2018, when sinkholes opened up along McLawren Terrace and severely damaged the two homes and the drain pipe that runs between them. A second round of sinkholes followed in May and did even more damage.

And third, everyone in the room at the Mulberry Grove Recreation Center taking part in the session put on by Community Development District 4 Supervisor Don Deakin was extremely frustrated with Marion County’s handling of the 15-months-long situation they have been forced to deal with on a daily basis.


District Manager Richard Baier told the exasperated residents that the plan is to reroute the neighborhood’s storm drain system to avoid the pipe running between the two damaged homes. He said the properties haven’t been stabilized to the point where he’s comfortable having crews work on the old pipe. And he said he isn’t willing to put CDD 4 and its residents in a position where the company that purchased the damaged homes, Asset Trust Holdings LLC – the company also advertises under the name I Buy Sick Homes – could pursue legal action if something went wrong and the homes were further damaged while the pipe was being repaired.

District Manager Richard Baier speaks to a group of residents from the sinkhole-ravaged Village of Calumet Grove during a question-and-answer session Monday night at the Mulberry Grove Recreation Center.


Baier said CDD 4 doesn’t yet have an estimate on the cost of the rerouted system, though he’s hopeful the $1.1 million already earmarked to repair the old pipe will cover it. He said the new system will take stormwater from the damaged intersection of McAlpin and McLawren down Locustwood Court and back out onto Calumet Avenue, with the new outfall pipe coming out at the pond near the Calumet Grove Postal Station.


Baier added that parts of the old pipe will be removed and other pieces will stay in place underground. And he added that the sequence of events will be stabilizing and reopening the damaged portion of McLawren Terrace, installing the new pipe and then finishing off the entire job.


“This will be a major project,” he said. “But one end of McLawren will always be open.”

Several residents said they lived in The Villages in February 2007 when a tornado ripped through a portion of the community and left homes in ruin. They recalled The Villages Developer quickly pulling builders off jobs to help clean up neighbors that were facing similar devastation. And they wondered aloud why he hasn’t done the same thing for them.

“We bought from the Developer,” said a visibly upset Frank Federico, who lives on Locustwood Court and was a resident of the Village of Caroline when the tornado hit the neighborhood. “Let’s have the Developer tell us that he doesn’t want to get involved and why he doesn’t want to get involved. The Developer has got to start talking. Right now, all he cares about is himself.”

Baier, who made it clear that he can’t speak for the Developer, said he shares the residents’ frustrations with Marion County government officials. He cited a Code Enforcement Board meeting where Villagers and District staff were refused to the right to speak and other conversations that he’s been involved with that have basically gone nowhere.

Weeds are growing in the damaged portion of McLawren Terrace, which remains closed at the intersection with McAlpin Street, in front of two sinkhole-damaged homes.


“We have been up there,” Baier said. “We’ve tried legal, cooperating, cajoling. We’ve met with their elected officials.”


Barbara Gaines, who serves as the spokesperson for the residents living around McLawren Terrace, said she was happy to hear about the plan to reroute the stormwater system, even though the nightmare she and her neighbors have been facing for 15 months is far from over.

“I asked about the kind of piping they’re going to use and it sounds like they’ve got it planned out,” she said. “But we’re still going to be dealing with that situation for at least probably three or four months minimum because of the all the processes it has to go through.”

Gaines said she plans to address the Marion County Commission again on Tuesday, April 16, to share residents’ concerns. The group attempted to share their thoughts and a slideshow explaining what they’ve been dealing with at a commission meeting earlier this month but they were shut down and after being given two minutes to speak and basically scolded by their commissioner, Jeff Gold, who said he had just received their courtesy letter a few days before the meeting.

“I felt like we got kind of shafted,” said Gaines, who represented about 30 residents in attendance and is hoping for a different outcome at next week’s meeting.