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Suncoast Meadows, Lennar still at odds over old landfill

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:53 PM
LAND O'LAKES -

In the past six months, Gil Livingstone has replaced his front lawn twice. He blames ammonia seeping from an underground landfill he says wasn't fully disclosed by the homebuilder — one of the nation's largest.

And that's not all.

"Dying plants everywhere," said Livingstone, president of the Suncoast Meadows homeowners association. "Our kids playing on top of a field full garbage. … Strange smells throughout their homes, or they're feeling sick for no apparent reason."

Last fall, the Tampa Tribune discovered something the developer, Miami-based Lennar homes, did not tell homebuyers.

Lennar dug up and moved a landfill to make room for houses. About 50 of the 480 homes were built on top of that land. The junk was buried under a soccer field that is used by neighborhood children.

Since the first Tribune report, state records obtained by the newspaper show some monitoring wells have ammonia levels six times the state standard. Homeowners say they are growing more frustrated.

"We want Lennar to remove all the junk in the ground, fix our soccer field that is sinking and uneven, and fix the land underneath homes," Livingstone said.

State records show Lennar asked for advice from the state Department of Environmental Protection when it discovered a 12-acre landfill on its Pasco County property. The state advised cleaning it up.

Lennar did clean part of the property and built a pool and cabana but no homes there. Junk it removed was relocated elsewhere on the 12 acres, to the area that would later become the soccer field.

The landfill was mentioned in a brief statement tucked inside manuals provided to homeowners at closing.

Later, Lennar discovered the landfill was even bigger, stretching into property slated for homes. That junk also was moved to the soccer field and a neighborhood park, but this wasn't spelled out to buyers.

Livingstone said parents worry about kids playing on the soccer field and won't allow leagues to play there because the ground is uneven.

Florida's Department of Environmental Protection says monitoring wells scattered throughout the neighborhood show elevated levels of ammonia in the groundwater and at times, enough methane to risk an explosion.

No one from Lennar agreed to be interviewed, but a crisis management firm it hired from California says Lennar offered in-home testing to all Suncoast Meadows residents. Thirty-five homes were tested, Lennar said, and it found no reason for concern.

Lennar says it did everything necessary to clean up the property when it built the neighborhood and that the high levels of ammonia are partly from natural sources, not just the landfill.

As for dying lawns, Lennar blamed poor maintenance, adding that its scientists don't see a correlation with the ammonia.

Livingstone does, though.

His home is just outside the footprint of the remediated portion of the dump. The pool area is nearby and sewer lines run down the street in front of Livingstone's house. He thinks the ammonia is traveling down the lines.

"My neighbors and I all have this problem in the front, but my backyard is fine," he said. "I can grow vegetables in the backyard, but not grass in the front."

Meanwhile, Livingstone says he and his neighbors are stuck with their homes because buyers run when they learn about the landfill.

"I feel horribly ripped off," Livingstone said.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, said he plans legislation next year that would make it a crime for a developer to sell a home without disclosing an old landfill. Fasano also has asked for a state investigation.

"If there's not a problem, then I challenge Lennar to go in there and give back people the money they paid for those homes, take those homes and try to re-sell them," Fasano said.

"The bottom line is they won't be able to sell them."


sbehnken@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7804

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