Residents offended by compensation offered by developer for damages

Residents offended by compensation offered by developer for damages
The San Jose Estates development, which is adjacent to the San Jose Forest neighborhood, has been plagued with drainage issues.

As far as Lynne Robison and her Madrid Avenue neighbors were concerned, the offer was “outrageous” and “insulting.”

After suffering soggy grass and standing water in their backyards for more than a year, Robison and her neighbors received an email May 7, offering $250 cash as part of a $1,500 “Neighborhood Fund” for each “to use to fill and sod a portion of each backyard” as compensation for damage done to their property due to the development of San Jose Estates.

The email was sent by Jim Onan, “coordinator of the entitlements of the project,” and signed by San Jose Estates Owner/Developer Feras Mouded. The offer was sent to the homeowners as a form of restitution for property damage incurred when San Jose Estates LLC, filled in the wetlands adjacent to their properties so that it can build a small subdivision, comprised of six parcels, bordering San Jose Boulevard.   

To receive the money, all six homeowners would need to sign a receipt stating: “The undersigned homeowner, in the consideration of the sum of $250 in hand this date, hereby waives and releases any and all current issues regarding the San Jose Estates development, as well as any future issues of the same. The undersigned homeowner also agrees to cease and desist all future communication and objections regarding the San Jose Estates development from this date forward.”

“The offer was insulting and outrageous. It makes me really angry,” said Robison, noting she and her neighbors have cattails growing in their backyards because the ground is so wet.

Robison’s neighbor, James Black, agreed. “As far as the $250 goes, I’m not going to accept it. I’m not going to give up my rights to go against anybody for $250,” he said. “If this was a goodwill gesture it certainly failed because nobody is going to do it. They would have been better off not offering anything at all.”

In an email written May 15 to Allen Baggett, compliance director for the St. Johns River Water Management District in Palatka, Robison’s husband, David, asked for answers concerning the drainage problems that he said still exist in his backyard.

In the email, Robison said San Jose Estates had not done the erosion control that had been requested by SJRWMD and that dirt was “migrating” to his property. “I still have elevated water table water perpetually invading my property no matter the rain conditions,” he wrote. “There has been a tacit acknowledgement of liability by San Jose Estates with an offer of $250 to each abutter to release liability (an insult to the true costs we have suffered due to this development).”

Robison, who has threatened to sue San Jose Estates LLC if it does not fix the drainage issue, also said he was obtaining quotes on the cost of putting up a fence, building a retaining wall, and building up his backyard by nearly four feet with fill to alleviate the wet conditions.

“I have been waiting for quotes to come in so that I could advance a realistic settlement value, but if I see heavy equipment performing any actions that are not erosion control or water abatement related, we as a neighborhood will be forced to challenge both the developer’s actions along with SJRWMD oversight,” he wrote. “I believe there is an answer to be had without being litigious, but we cannot allow this development to proceed without resolution and compensation to the damage this project has done (and will continue to do) to me and my neighbors.”

Lynne Robison said she and her husband had already received a verbal quote for $22,000 and a written quote for $17,000 to do the required work in their backyard and are waiting to receive two more.

“They are offering only 1 percent of what it will cost to fix our property,” she said, noting her husband has already alerted the city about their opposition to having building permits issued to San Jose Estates. “Believe me I am going to sue this guy because I didn’t plan for this in my budget,” she said.

Lynne Robison said her husband had suggested San Jose Estates use some of its leftover dirt, which is currently piled high on the property, to fill in their yard, but the developer declined.

“We thought he could fill our property with all the dirt he had there, but he refused. Then he came back with the idea of giving us $250. That’s like giving you a gas card,” she said.

Black, who lives three houses down from the Robisons, said he has a mass of cattails growing in his back yard, but believes San Jose Estates’ drainage solution for his property (but not his neighbors) may work if the developer would spread some sod to “stabilize” and prevent erosion from constantly filling up the drains. He said over the past few months San Jose Estates LLC has had to dig out mud from the drains and the ditch behind his home at least three times.

“Behind my house there are cattails because of the damp soil, but it is draining,” Black said, noting the developer also promised to eventually replace his new back fence which was damaged with the watery conditions. “Right now, they are supposed to come out and regrade the slope because it has filled in. They have filter paper on it, but when that gets covered up with mud then they have to go back and clear it again. They’ve had to redo it so many times, it’s ridiculous. If they would just get it done so we can move on, they wouldn’t have to redo the work that they have already done.”    

Over the past few months, the developer has worked with the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to alleviate standing water at the rear property line, said Baggett, noting that as far as SJRWMD is concerned, the permit, which allows “filling and constructing,” is currently in compliance.

“While most of the drainage system has been constructed, additional efforts include the installation of perforated pipe, lowering the grate elevations of the five inlets, and lowering the slot elevations on each of the inlets. Furthermore, the City of Jacksonville is requiring the developer to construct a swale system along the rear property line to help facilitate the flow into the inlets and slots,” he said. “The applicant is required to install and maintain erosion/sediment controls before and during construction. During district inspections, staff have observed these controls in place. If staff observe that these controls are not in place, they will direct the applicant to reinstall or maintain them,” he said.

“The district was also instrumental in fostering communication between the owner/developer and the adjacent landowners,” Baggett continued. “We have shared with the adjacent landowners that a portion of the rear of their property is considered floodplain and from time to time would have experienced some amount of water. District staff addressed this issue of off-site runoff with the consultant, which resulted in the permitted design. Because of our ongoing communication with both parties, further attempts to alleviate the concerns associated with wet yards at the rear of the property line has continued. It is the district’s understanding that the owner/developer has reached out with an offer to each of the adjacent landowners to improve the rear of the backyards, if desired.”

Baggett would not comment on whether $250 was fair compensation for the damage incurred to the abutters’ property by San Jose Estates LLC. “This is not within the district’s purview,” he said. “It is a matter between the developer and the property owners.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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