Eleanor Williams likes her neighbors, the modern appliances in her kitchen suit her well and, as the president of the County Administrative Services and Opportunities for Seniors program, living next door to the O'Malley Senior Center is a big plus.
Only one problem dampens this portrait of pleasant living in the Stoney Hill public housing apartment -- the spring that wells up in the middle of her living room floor every time it rains.
"I don't want to move. I do like the place, but I don't want to live like this," Williams said Monday, pulling up a bathroom carpet that was still damp from last weekend's rains. "Whenever it rains a day-long rain, the water comes in here from all directions. I don't even need air conditioning in the summer because my apartment is water-cooled. . . .
That's funny, but this needs to be fixed."
In October, citing mold and mildew that develop on the walls and carpets, the county health department ordered the housing authority to vacate 21 water-damaged senior and wheelchair-accessible apartments in the 55-unit complex. Housing authority officials, unable to find suitable public housing for the handicapped residents, arranged to have only the six most seriously damaged units vacated while they study the drainage problems.
Williams said she also has a problem when her upstairs neighbors drain their sink; the effluent gurgles up into her own sink.
June Waller, executive director of the county housing authority, has told the builder, Frank Gant and Associates, to come up with a solution to the problem that residents say has been a constant nuisance since 1986, when the $2.26 million Georgian-style project was completed.
"It's a gorgeous project, but it's just not working and we don't know where the water's coming from," Waller said. The housing authority has estimated that waterproofing the complex will cost at least $300,000.
Builder Frank Gant said the repairs should cost significantly less than $300,000. He blamed the leaks on improper maintenance, not springs.
Marilyn Haley, president of the Stoney Hill tenants council, who said she had 3 inches of water in her kitchen in spring 1989, has one theory.
Pointing to an old brown shrub that she says was killed by too much water and a small spring 15 yards from her apartment, she said it's obvious that she lives on an underground river.
Margret and Frank Kaul, who have lived next door to the site since 1958, remember it as a cat-tail swamp. They said they tried to warn the developers that they were building on a spring. But all they got for their advice, they said, was a visit from a police officer who asked them kindly not to bother the builders at work.
"It's a sad construction. In this area, most places are built with sump pumps and drains. All the local people know that, but unfortunately, the people who built (Stoney Hill) didn't take that into consideration because they weren't locals," Margret Kaul said.
Kaul said the builder could have looked to the region's history to know the bountiful springs that appear to be causing the problems at Stoney Hill are the very reason people first came to the Odenton.
"That's why people settled in Odenton, you know: for the easy water. The Indians' first settlement, (a half-mile away) under the Odenton Liquors and Super Fresh shopping center, was called Picture Springs because the Indians held their powwows there and would carve totems on trees. You had the pictures and the springs together."
Frank Kaul, who said he was interested in the project only as a taxpayer who didn't want to see his money wasted, said he doesn't feel at all vindicated by seeing the problems he predicted next door.
"It's a shame. The people here are very nice. I just hope they can get the problem fixed," he said.
Gant said the geotechnical studies his firm conducted before construction contradict the Kauls' allegations. The main problem at the facility, he said, is above -- not below -- ground and could have been easily addressed if the housing authority had put money into it three years ago.
But because the complex is so new, Stoney Hill will not qualify for the federal Comprehensive Improvement Assistance Program until next year, when the building is 5 years old, Waller said.
Last week, she appealed for a $300,000 community development block grant to correct the drainage problems, but she said she wasn't very optimistic about the prospects of winning the grant.