Manatee homeowner: Willowbrook is 'a place of heartache'

MANATEE -- After another appearance by beleaguered Willowbrook homeowners, the Manatee County Commission on Tuesday ordered a report that will address whether the county's building inspection system worked properly or not.

Commissioners told frustrated homeowners from the East Manatee development plagued with construction defects that they would address the issue after hearing a staff report due Oct. 30.

Homeowner Nicholas Sommer asked how building code violations that have caused serious water intrusion in many of the units could have occurred.

"Manatee County has failed our community by not ensuring proper inspections" were done, he said.

The county needs to take responsibility for construction irregularities that have rendered many homes uninhabitable, Sommer told commissioners.

"Willowbrook has become a black eye for Manatee County, and a place of heartache for its residents," he said.

Homeowners have reported that their homes have become hazardous due to water intrusion on the third and second floor balconies, which has led to sinking floors and loose guard rails. Interior damage includes wood deterioration and wall moisture. Some residents said they've spotted evidence of mold.

Such basics as hurricane straps were not required of the builder, California-based KB Home, said homeowner Dan Koehler. He said the county Building Department had pledged to investigate, "But so far, they have not."

"What is being done to prevent this epic failure from happening again?" he asked the board.

Armando Oyola-Delgado told the board an engineering group found 95 code vi

olations at Willowbrook, adding, it was "very disheartening."

Most of the commissioners expressed sympathy.

"You ask perfectly valid questions," said Commissioner Michael Gallen.

"It's just unconscionable it's gone this far, I don't know what we can do," said Commissioner Robin DiSabatino.

At one point, the board discussed hiring an outside party to review the Building Department's work, checking its performance and procedures, but no formal action was taken.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she thought the health hazards at the complex should be addressed by the Manatee County Health Department.

The matter is largely a private dispute between homeowners and their builder, and the county's legal remedies are limited, said County Attorney Mitchell "Mickey" Palmer.

Still, he said he was "amazed" that no one from the community's homeowners' association had appeared, and "baffled" why no progress had been made after a KB Home official promised during a public commission meeting last summer to rectify the situation.

"We're going to repair these units, we're going to make this community whole, and we'll make the residents proud," George Glance, president of KB Home's Central Florida operations, told commissioners.

But Tuesday, homeowners said that so far help from KB Home has not been forthcoming.

Although the development's homeowners' association has yet to appear before the commission, last summer it reached a settlement with the national home builder in order to make repairs, officials said at the time.

The homeowners' association, called the Willowbrook Association, manages all homeowner properties within the 272-unit town home community.

The agreement authorized a third-party contractor to make repairs to balconies inside Willowbrook, of which 32 at the time had been ruled unsafe by Manatee County building inspectors due to sinking floors and loose guard rails.

"KB Home is pleased that the Homeowner's Association and the residents in Willowbrook are satisfied with the repair protocol and process that was developed to address the homeowners concerns," KB Home spokeswoman Cara Lane said Tuesday in an e-mail.

"We have applied for permits with Manatee County, and are eager to begin to make full repairs as quickly as possible."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter

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