supervisors look for way to avoid court in sinkhole saga
COURTESY : Daily Commercial
By Megan Shannon
Published January 3, 2006
THE VILLAGES -
District 4 supervisors hope to transfer some sinkhole repair costs to the
developer without entering the courtroom.
Some Villages residents, though, are pessimistic, saying officials with The
Villages of Lake Sumter Inc. will not want to set a precedent that could cost a
hefty sum of money.
In 2000, Community Development District 4 supervisors signed an agreement with
the development company which charges residents of that district with the
creation, construction and maintenance of retention ponds.
Rich Lambrecht, District 4 chairman, said there have been two sinkholes per year
since 2002 and three in 2005. District 4 has 24 ponds, which Lambrecht said
increases the likelihood of sinkholes.
“We are saddled with an onerous easement agreement that has a very big
liability,” he said. “It’s too big for the residents to just roll over
Lambrecht said the water in the retention ponds is used to irrigate the golf
courses, which requires the construction of a wet pond — a larger, more
expensive pond that Lambrecht said is more likely to develop a sinkhole.
In a letter sent to The Villages of Lake Sumter Inc. three months ago, district
representatives wrote that because the developer makes money from the golf
courses and the homes are worth more money when overlooking a retention pond,
that some of the financial responsibility should be on the developer’s
According to Lambrecht, Villages representatives replied that 10.7 percent of
the water that drains into the pond on the Nancy Lopez golf course is
developer-owned. The district was paid 10.7 percent of the cost of repairing the
two sinkholes on that course — about $20,000. The residents paid the other
The third sinkhole was on the resident-owned Executive Golf Course, and the cost
of repairing it — about $216,000 — was split evenly between District 4, the
district’s water treatment plant and the Villages Center Community Development
District. The VCCDD collects fees from residents in all of The Villages to fund
District supervisors gave Lambrecht permission last week to research more
options for the district. He has also asked St. Johns River Water Management
District what can be done to terminate the current agreement. He said he will
have more information for the board at the end of the month.
“I believe one way or another we will be able to mitigate the agreement,” he
Attorney Jimmy Crawford told District 4 supervisors there is no way to get
around the agreement, which in his opinion is legally sound. Lambrecht is
looking for a second opinion.
“I think there are other legal opinions that will say the agreement is
one-sided,” he said. “I am trying to find other avenues. I don’t want to
rush into court.”
Property Owners Association President Joe Gorman said the district may just be
“running in place” instead of making progress.
“The developer can dig his heels in on this because it could set precedent,”
he said. “There are a lot of sinkholes popping up.”
Gorman said even if the district filed suit against the developer that still
would not mean an easy victory.
“A lawsuit would mean diddly against the big pockets of the developer,” he
Gorman said on the surface of the agreement it is valid but agreed with
Lambrecht that a deeper look could reveal an “unbalanced transaction.”
“A judge could rule the contract invalid once they see how unbalanced the
contract is in terms of the residents,” Gorman said.
Calls made Monday to The Villages of Lake-Sumter Inc. were not returned.