Mud in Homeowners' Eyes CARROLL COUNTY

April 22, 1993

When homeowners move into newly built homes, they can expect to find a few kinks. Cabinet doors might not close tightly. Some trim might require a coat of paint. An electrical switch might be missing a cover plate. Those would be acceptable glitches.

A 25-foot-high pile of dirt outside the home, however, would not fall in that category.

Residents on Caracara Court in the Hawk Ridge Farm development in Sykesville have been living with such mountains of dirt for more than five months. When it rains, muddy runoff floods their homes. Poor engineering and grading in other sections of the development caused dirt and rocks to wash onto Norris Avenue during last Friday's torrential downpour, clogging storm drains.

The developer, Powers Homes, blames wet weather and scheduling problems, but that excuse doesn't wash. While March saw record snows and rainfall, precipitation during January and February was below normal. There has been ample dry weather since November, when several of these homeowners moved in, for those piles to be moved and for the lots of the new homes to be properly graded.

Like some other developers, Powers Homes was abusing its new customers and taking shortcuts for its own profits' sake. Rather than move the dirt and leave the homeowners with yards ready for seeding and planting, the developer decided to stockpile the surplus soil until it was needed for its next phase of construction. The company neatly avoided the costs of moving, loading, hauling and dumping this excess soil and rock. And the firm isn't fly-by-night; its vice president, Jeff Powers, currently heads the Carroll County Homebuilders Association.

Sykesville officials rightly have ordered further work on the development stopped until the piles are removed and the lots properly graded. Unless town or county officials put pressure on this developer, these piles could remain indefinitely. The option for the home owners themselves is limited to hiring attorneys -- an expensive proposition for those who just bought homes.

As the pace of Carroll's homebuilding picks up, county inspectors need to protect home buyers against similar shortcuts that can turn the dream of home ownership into a nightmare.

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