Repairs under way at East Manatee's Willowbrook development, but homeowners still angry

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 3, 2013 

EAST MANATEE -- Daily pounding of hammers and the whir of power saws made studying difficult for Amanda Dillon when she needed quiet to prepare for final exams.

Dillon, 25, a student at LECOM School of Pharmacy, at Lakewood Ranch, lives in a condo at the Willowbrook complex in eastern Manatee County.

Although her $111,000 unit is only two years old, it has already developed water intrusion and resulting mold and mildew from serious construction defects, she said.

Now, the development's builder, KB Home, and its condo association have begun repairing some of the damaged units in the 272-unit complex.

Permits for repairs at six buildings have been OK'd by the county, and two county inspectors are assigned to oversee the work, said John Barnott, director of the county's Building and Development Services Department.

Dillon's home in the 8800 block of White Sage Loop is among the first to be repaired.

She was glad to see workmen, but was unhappy that the giant home builder ignored her request to move to a hotel to spare her from construction noise and debris every weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"They started construction during finals week," explained Dillon. "They said, 'Let's see if the noise bothers you,'" recalled Dillon, whose roommate fled to St. Petersburg to avoid the racket.

"I'm trying to force myself to get accustomed to it," Dillon said.

She's also annoyed because the company is balking at replacing the screened-in enclosure workmen removed when they began their repairs on

her balcony, she added.

"Everything KB says is a lie," she said.

One reason the work seems to be going slowly is that contractors are doing investigative studies as they go along in order to determine exactly why the structures failed, said Sal Ventimiglia, owner of Dueall Construction, of Riverview, whose workers were busy at the complex Wednesday.

"Right now, we're in the investigative stage," he said.

A statement from the company read: "KB Home is working closely with the Willowbrook Condominium Association to ensure that their selected contractor has the necessary resources to properly make exterior repairs to the homes. As seen through the extensive construction activity in Willowbrook, we are currently making repairs and crews on site thoroughly working on the necessary repairs. We appreciate the homeowners' patience during this process, and we are eager to make these full repairs as quickly as possible and to the satisfaction of our homeowners."

The Willowbrook Condo Association, which owns all property outside the drywall, signed an agreement with KB Home to hire a third-party contractor to make repairs. KB Home has deposited $2 million in an escrow account that will not go below $500,000, company officials have said.

Three disgruntled homeowners recently won election to the association's board, now constituting a majority. They hope their presence will help in their quest for a thorough remediation, according to homeowner Brandon Crismon, one of the new board members.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation investigated and found violations, but when Barnott asked for a copy of its report, he was told he could not have it, he said Wednesday.

Bradenton Herald requests for the report, written by state investigator Gene Kelley, also went nowhere.

In letters to homeowners dated Dec. 6, the department said the investigation was complete, but that it would be forwarded for legal review, and that homeowners would get written notification of any action. The letter did not reveal results of the investigation.

"Under Ch. 455, the Department is unable to confirm or deny whether any complaints or investigations exist against a licensed entity until 10 days after probable cause has been found," Sandi Copes Poreda, director of communications for the Department of Business & Professional Regulation, wrote in an e-mail. "I do not have any public records available on this matter at this time."

And, as if all that wasn't enough, Wednesday there were piles of construction debris that had been dumped in the wetland preserve adjacent to the Willowbrook development. It was not clear how the mess had gotten there.

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