The massive sinkhole that opened up in the Fore Ranch community over the summer will apparently open up a hole in residents’ wallets, as well.
The Fore Ranch Master Community Association recently notified property owners that they must pay a “special assessment” of $385 to repair the 100-foot-long, 40-foot wide chasm that almost devoured part of the Wynchase section.
According to some residents, the homeowners’ group’s notice came with a payment book, requiring six payments of about $64 each over the first half of 2013. The first installment is due Jan. 1 for those who opt against paying the whole cost at once.
The sinkhole opened on what appears to be property owned by the association near a retention pond.
Kim Twiss, the Fore Ranch community manager for Leland Management, the Orlando-based company that manages the grounds, did not return a call seeking comment.
However, in a statement, the Master Community Association board shed some light on the thinking behind the special assessment.
The board noted that Fore Ranch has dealt with multiple sinkholes, two of which were “very large” and located in retention ponds.
The total cost to repair them has run about $615,000, or about 20 times the $30,000 the association puts into its annual budget for sinkhole repairs. That remediation amount also is equal to the community’s entire operating budget, about $661,000.
“The budget could not cover the costs to repair the sinkholes,” the statement said. “Therefore, Fore Ranch Master Community Association’s Board of Directors special assessed the residents of Fore Ranch to pay for the costs to repair the sinkholes.
“Without the special assessments the sinkhole repairs would have left the community without funding for the community’s club house, pool, landscaping and other common amenities,” the statement said.
The board, the statement continued, “sincerely hopes this will be the last time the board will need to assess its residents for sinkhole repairs.”
Those homeowners who choose not to pay, or don’t pay in full, face being hit with interest and penalties, according to the one-page letter to the residents dated Nov. 5.
The correspondence notes that the association is “eager to move forward with the repairs,” and that the new fee will be charged on top of the community’s monthly maintenance fee, which varies by Fore Ranch community.
The Master Community Association is comprised of the four homeowner associations within Fore Ranch.
Mike Stella, who owns a townhome in Wynchase, said he will feel a big financial pinch from the fee. He already pays $171 a month in homeowners association fees.
Based on the detailed expense reports he receives, Stella does not believe the association is “just blowing money.” Yet he wonders why the developer, Pulte Homes, is not stepping up.
“I bought my townhouse in 2007 from Pulte Homes and at no time, when I was shown diagrams of the layout of the community, was I told of likelihoods of sinkholes,” Stella said.
“We have now been hit with two major sinkholes in the last two years that we have paid special assessments for. I want to know where Pulte is now. Do they not stand by their work and where they place their houses?
“This is affecting people’s lives,” Stella added in an email.
“This is not only a major safety hazard, but also affecting people’s financial livelihood. We should be getting help by Pulte in fixing this situations and we need answers on whether this is going to continue happening. I can’t keep paying an extra $400 a year for a sinkhole!”
Triggered by Tropical Storm Debby in late June, the latest sinkhole led the Ocala Police Department to evacuate eight townhouses in that part of Fore Ranch.
The gigantic divot was one of 13 that appeared inside Fore Ranch in Debby’s wake, and among 53 reported around the county at the time.
An engineering firm hired by Fore Ranch evaluated the sinkhole and determined that it was safe for those displaced residents to return to their homes, according to Ocala city spokeswoman Jeannine Robbins. They were allowed back in a couple of days after the incident.
In July some Fore Ranch residents told the Star-Banner that they had just been assessed $225 to repair a previous sinkhole within the community.
That seemingly referred to a sinkhole that opened in a retention pond in April 2011 in the Red Hawk section of Fore Ranch.
That pond was the endpoint for stormwater that was rerouted as crews were fixing yet another sinkhole.
That apparently was the 80-foot-by-50-foot cavity that opened in August 2010 and collapsed part of Southwest 42nd Street inside the Saddle Creek community.
The event touched off a squabble between Pulte Homes and the city over who should pay roughly $116,000 for the repairs.
It was not clear whether a pair of 3-foot-wide water pipes broken in the incident were the cause or victims of the incident. The parties agreed to split the cost.
Sinkholes appeared inside a Fore Ranch retention pond back in 2006, when the community had finished slightly more than half of its roughly 1,100 homes.
Pulte executives and city officials both said the area, like the rest of limestone-layered Marion County, was susceptible to sinkhole development.
Under state law, property insurers who pay claims for sinkhole-related repairs must file a report with the court clerk’s office detailing the incident. According to Clerk of the Circuit Court David Ellsperman’s staff, 15 such claims are on record since December 2010 for the Red Hawk and Saddle Creek portions of Fore Ranch.
None have been filed to date for the Wynchase incident.
Jack Difato of SinkTeam, a Tampa-based firm of public adjusters who represent homeowners with sinkhole claims, said Pulte, from a legal standpoint, would not be responsible for fixing the sinkhole.
“That’s why they have insurance,” he said of the homeowners — although Difato added that the state, through a law enacted in 2011, has hobbled homeowners in their attempts to have sinkhole damage covered by their insurer.
Yet for the sake of good publicity and goodwill, Pulte might want to consider handling the Fore Ranch repair, Difato said.
After all, that’s what the developer did in Trillium after Tropical Storm Debby blew through, said Difato, who represents homeowners in that subdivision near Brooksville.
According to the Hernando Today newspaper, Debby caused at least 15 sinkholes within Trillium. Some of them were deeper than 20 feet.
Difato says Pulte has been pouring grout into the depressions for months.
Valerie Dolenga, a regional spokeswoman for Pulte, explained that the builder continues to build and sell at Trillium, and that the homeowners’ association there is still developer-controlled.
Fore Ranch, in contrast, was turned over to the residents, she added.