Eastword column: Golden Rule would have gone a long way in clearing the air at Willowbrook

August 12, 2012 

KB Home would have been well served to send in their best troubleshooter at the first hint of a problem at the Willowbrook town home neighborhood in East Manatee.

But the problems have festered for several years.

Problems with water intrusion, mold, crumbling balconies. Those are all health and safety issues, to say nothing of a source of great frustration and angst to the residents who bought the homes.

Efforts by KB Home to rectify the problem have come in fits and starts and have been totally ineffective, according to residents.

As of Thursday afternoon, 20 of 27 units that county inspectors looked at had safety issues. Inspections continue in the 270-unit community. Almost certainly inspectors will find more problems.

I got my first look at the problem Aug. 1. That was the day, remember, when there was a big show of support for Chick-fil-A. I had been out at Creekwood covering the mass of humanity descending on the restaurant, when Executive Editor Joan Krauter called me and asked me to check out disturbing reports about Willowbrook.

Soon enough I was walking through the homes of Dan Koehler, Sally Urbaniak, Armando Oyola-Delgado and Roxanne Miller.

What I saw reminded me of the aftermath of a hurricane or tropical storm. Blue tarps on walls to keep the water out, plastic hanging inside the units, mold on the walls, balconies that appeared to be caving in, falling ceilings, plus a sharp stench in some of the town homes.

Frankly, it depressed me.

The Willowbrook residents didn't seem to be hot heads or anyone out trying to hit the lottery.

No one should have to live like that.

Especially when there are children involved. The Koehlers have a baby in their unit.

I noticed myself coughing that night after work.

I wouldn't want to live like that. I most certainly wouldn't want my loved ones to.

KB execs would not live like that, either. They would not tolerate those conditions. Not for one moment would they subject their children to that kind of environment.

And what about the value of those units? Will residents ever be able to sell them?

Whatever happened to "the customer is always right?" Customer satisfaction is a powerful thing. It cuts both ways. A happy customer is a company's best advertising. An unhappy customer? That can be a nightmare.

It's hard to say what KB Home tried to do considering how stingy the Los Angeles-based builder has been in answering the Herald's questions.

Reporter Nick Williams has been the lead reporter on this story since Aug. 1.

At this point, the Willowbrook residents want nothing less than a buyback.

All this might have been avoided with some good troubleshooting, communication and a sincere effort to make things right.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet@jajones1.

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