A dust-up over construction in one Lakewood Ranch neighborhood

srocco@bradenton.comSeptember 13, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Sometimes, on really dry days, the dust that rises up in front of Tom and Linda Rojack's house is so thick they can barely see across the street.

It gets in their pool and covers their patio. The Rojacks spent $250 on a plastic tarp to cover their new pool and almost $4,000 on heavy-duty shades to protect the area from the dust storms.

No, the Rojacks don't live in Nevada. They live next to a field of dirt in Central Park, a Neal Community in Lakewood Ranch. Their neighborhood, Longview Lake Park, is still being developed and construction is rampant.

Therein lies the problem.

The Rojacks, along with other disgruntled neighbors, say they are battling excessive dust from lack of water trucks; they contend giant construction vehicles are tearing through neighborhood roads instead of utilizing a designated construction entrance; and they say communication between the neighborhood's developer, Neal Communities, and its residents has been minimal until now.

"We understand being in a development that's under construction that you're going to have … the construction," Linda Rojack said Tuesday morning at her home, 12049 Longview Lake Circle. "We understand that, but it's just the way the residents are being callously treated."

After the Herald inquired about the dust, construction and communication issues Tuesday, Neal Communities invited residents to a neighborhood meeting with Pat Neal, president of the company, on Wednesday night.

About 20 residents showed up to spout their frustrations at Neal in the two-hour meeting on the Rojacks' front lawn. Neal, surrounded by the neighbors, tried to find a solution to each person's complaint.

"I plan to have meetings until the problem gets resolved," he said. "We're going to move fast on this."

Neal said he'll be taking steps to mitigate the dust and construction issues and promised that his team will be more proactive about getting back to residents. Whether that will appease them remains to be seen.

Dust debate

The Rojacks moved in to the neighborhood in June 2012.

"Initially they tried to be responsive of some of our issues," Linda Rojack said of Neal Communities. "They cleaned the outside of our house and the outside of our pool because of the massive amount of dirt that was created."

Since February, however, Rojack said she contacted Neal Communities several times each month to urge them to continue the supply of water trucks to protect the new homes from the dust. She said she hasn't seen a water truck since the end of July.

Kim Hanson, who lives at 4738 Balboa Park Loop, said she had to replace an expensive filter in her pool that was supposed to last a year. It lasted six months because of dust, she said.

Hanson is also concerned about her air conditioning taking in the dust and how that could affect her daughter, who has allergies.

"What's the long-term effect of all this dust?" Hanson said. "They're so concerned with developing that they've forgotten about the people who are in the middle of the construction zone."

But Leisa Weintraub, vice president of marketing and creative director for Neal Communities, said a water truck has been on site.

"We have a water truck on site weekdays and use it as needed," Weintraub said in an email to the Herald. "The rains have helped the situation."

Construction logjam

On any given day, Longview Lake Park is dotted with large construction trucks and equipment. Residents, who started moving into the neighborhood in 2012, are complaining that the vehicles are using neighborhood roads instead of a construction entrance, causing excessive noise and safety issues.

"It's been a long-standing issue that construction workers treat us like a job site and not like a neighborhood," Linda Rojack said.

"It's understandable that they would have some concerns because they're in a community that's undergoing building and expansion and it can be difficult to live through that construction phase until it's finished," Weintraub said.

Work on the construction entrance hasn't been completed. Right now, land development crews are working on laying pipeline and finishing the base so trucks can use that route, Neal said.

But residents aren't satisfied.

"It's not really our problem it's too muddy," resident John Golon said. "There's supposed to be a construction entrance. They can put rock or gravel down. There's supposed to be an attempt to use it."

Spotting solutions

To combat the dust, Neal said he will continue to use water trucks and put up 6-foot-tall silt fences around the dirt field to try to barricade the homes. He also agreed to clean some residents' pools and power wash. Land development manager Randy Olson said he would get grass down on the field as soon as possible, around Sept. 23.

Neal said that use of a designated construction entrance was not possible, but promised to put someone in place to closely monitor construction traffic. Builders who don't follow the rules will be fined.

And to mitigate the communication issues, Neal promised that his team will become more proactive about getting back to residents. Twice each month, they will get a construction update via email. Neal said he will continue to meet every week on the Rojacks' lawn until the problems were fixed.

Following Wednesday's meeting, residents were impressed with Neal's pledge to address their long-standing concerns, but they still aren't sure what to believe.

"He's trying. You've got to give him some credit for trying," resident Pam Weigert said. "But nothing's going to change."

Resident Edward Contreras was left feeling more optimistic: "He'll get something done. I can tell by his demeanor."

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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