Homeowners, Developer Dispute Liability For Pond

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune


Published August 1, 2006

WESLEY CHAPEL - A small retention pond is causing a flood of headaches at one Wesley Chapel subdivision.

Erosion has compromised the stability of a deep man-made pond and connecting drainage ditch at Oak Grove, a subdivision of about 875 homes between State Road 54 and County Line Road west of Cypress Creek Road.

The damage will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, engineers say.

Just who is responsible for fixing the problem has led to a yearlong debate between residents and the subdivision's developer, Sunfield Homes and Orsi Development.

Pond 150, nestled between Victoria Wood Court and Portofino Drive, was dug out about five years ago, before adjacent homes were built.

Pasco County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District inspected and approved the pond at the time of its construction.

Sunfield and Orsi maintained the pond and several others at Oak Grove until November 2004, when the New Port Richey-based development team transferred control of the Oak Grove Homeowners Association - and most ponds - to the residents.

Several months later homeowners began noticing the sides of Pond 150 and an adjacent ditch were crumbling.

Residents worry if the erosion isn't abated, their back yards could collapse into the pond.

The homeowners association hired an engineering consulting firm last year to look at the pond. The consultant, Cumbey & Fair Inc., recommended regrading and re-sodding the sides of the ditch and pond, and installing "erosion control matting" under the sod, among other remedies.

Repairs will cost roughly $200,000 for rudimentary "patch-work," or as much as $800,000 for a more permanent fix, the association says.

If the association is stuck with the bill and opts for the more expensive repairs, each property owner would be assessed at least $800.

Joel Dilbert, past homeowners association president, says the developer should pay for any repairs because the pond was cheaply and improperly built.

"We were misled," Dilbert said. Sunfield and Orsi "kind of wiped their hands of any responsibility."

Not true, says Michael Orsi, vice president of Sunfield Homes.

"It is in my best interest to have taken care of anything I needed to take care of," Orsi said Monday from his home near Toronto. "If they can demonstrate it's our responsibility, I'd be more than happy to look into it."

Several builders constructed homes at Oak Grove. Orsi said he isn't sure which builder dug out Pond 150.

Erosion occurs naturally with retention ponds, which need constant upkeep, Orsi said - chores now the responsibility of the homeowners association.

"If they have a valid claim, why wouldn't I look after it?" he said. "If I didn't they'd sue me."

Litigation may be an option, the association says.

Bob Lorenzo, chairman of the association's roads and grounds committee, said the group is seeking additional engineering input before deciding what to do next.

The association can't wait forever. Pond 150 is scheduled to be reinspected next year.

"Do I think we were taken advantage of by the developer? Yes," Lorenzo said. "Can I prove it [at this time]? No."