News Section: Local Government
Willowbrook Residents Shunned Again
BRADENTON – They knew without proper oversight, parts of the house could fall – and they did. They knew that with water leaking, life-threatening mold could make its way into their lungs. And they knew wet electrical boxes could easily be a fire hazard, but they still didn't know what to do about it. Willowbrook residents feel like they won the lottery from hell. So again on Tuesday, the KB home owners at Willowbrook went before the Manatee County Commission seeking help in finding some measure of relief.
Willowbrook Resident Dan Koehler stood at the Tuesday's meeting and said, "Hurricane straps not required," then turned his hands up. Armando Delgado said, "So far, they found over 95 code violations in one subdivision. Do something about KB Homes. I managed to get out, some families can't do anything," adding, "You have the power and authority."
Phil Graziano said, "Cut to the chase. There are big problems. Take to higher ground. It's bad. You need to take a ride and see for yourself." Brandon Crismon, Nicholas Sommer and Andy Smith all came to the commission and were disappointed with what seemed to be a " brush-off." This was the fourth time they had all come downtown to get help with what they considered a criminal act.
Another thing they agreed on was that KB home sold them all a damaged and dangerous product. They didn't have any faith in the President of KB's Central Florida division, George Glance, who promised them and the BOCC he would stand behind the company's product. They said they had been getting the brush-off from Glance and company for many years, while complaining to the county for almost two.
This time, Willowbrook residents were hoping commissioners would finally crack down on KB and tell them that no more KB homes would be built until they fix the broken ones. But commissioners just put a little more sympathy behind the same excuses they handed out the last time the home owners were there.
Micky Palmer, the county's attorney, repeatedly warned the commission, "I caution you in getting involved. This is a private matter."
The homeowners knew when they bought their house that "inspection fees" were included in the cost. They knew those fees were paid to the county, to have a professional check the construction, so the house would be built to code and safe and they felt that those fees bought them assurances in the purchase, which was for most of them, the biggest investment they had ever made.
When the Willowbrook homeowners left the meeting, they did so with dismay, frustrated that nothing had changed and annoyed by the repeat performance by the board.
Andy Smith said he felt Commissioner DiSabatino was sincere and wanted to do something for them.
All in the Willowbrook group were asking, where John Barnott, Manatee County's Building Director, was. He is the one they feel is most responsible for their houses not getting sufficient inspections. Barnott hasn't been very visible through much of the conflict and recently said to a WTSP Channel 10 reporter, he hadn't personally inspected the site.
Phil Graziano told me he had flown in from up north just to see what the commission was going to do. "Nothing happened," he said. "They said a lot of nothing."
Commissioner McClash did call for an outside party to view what had actually transpired and for a weekly report. Commissioner DiSabatino suggested a public hearing be scheduled, saying "responsible people do that." Their sentiment was echoed by commissioner Gallen who said, "It's tragic," adding "we need to think outside the box."
The idea of a "lemon law" for homes surfaced a couple of weeks ago, the last time Willowbrook residents were before the commission. The subject is now on the list of items to be presented to the 2013 legislative session so Florida Legislatures can consider such a law, but commissioners acknowledged that it would be fiercely opposed by the homebuilding lobby, who would surely label it a job killer.
Neither a lemon law or any other regulation will help the many KB Home property owners who are living in their crumbling houses. They can't sell them or afford to fix them, and living in them is a health hazard. Manatee County Commissioners say there isn't much they can do and KB Home says they are doing what they can. The residents say they are confident that both parties are wrong in those assessments.
Click here to add a comment to this page