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
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
“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