Dream house is nightmare

January 04, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

Len and Lynn King moved into their custom-built $200,000 dream home in Westminster in November 1988.

Five years and two failed septic systems later, the Kings' dream of having a Victorian house in rural Carroll County has become a homeowner's nightmare.

The soil on the Kings' land can't support a septic system, but that wasn't determined until it was too late. Four months after the King family had moved into their new home on Mayberry Road in Runnymede Summit, they discovered raw sewage seeping to the surface from their drain field.

The septic system's failure shocked the Kings, because their 3-acre lot had met county health department requirements for the installation of a septic system.

After retesting the Kings' property, health department officials and soil scientists discovered that the soils on the lot were "wet weather soils," which should have been tested from February to April for an accurate indication of absorption capacity.

The Kings' original tests were conducted three weeks after the wet-weather testing period, giving the property a false positive result.

As a result of the Kings' problem, the soils in the whole area have been reclassified as wet weather soils and the county has refused to issue septic and well permits for the six remaining lots in the subdivision.

But that doesn't help the Kings. They are living in a $200,000 house without a working septic system.

Years of meetings

After three years of meetings with health department officials, county and state elected officials, soil scientists and engineers, the Kings have just about given up on their dream.

"The only recourse we have at this time is bankruptcy," Mr. King said. "It makes no sense to keep putting money in the house." In addition, Mr. King said he recently lost his job because he could not sell the house and relocate.

The Kings lived in the Hampden section of Baltimore for 37 years before moving to Carroll. They bought their lot from the development partnership of Mayberry Associates in early 1988.

The county health department issued Mayberry Associates a septic tank permit for the Kings' lot in May 1988. Sanitarians conducted seven failed percolation tests on the lot and three successful tests before issuing the permit, said Charles Zeleski, assistant director of the county's Bureau of Environmental Health.

He said the department requires a minimum of two successful tests in each sewage disposal area, but on the Kings' lot, three passing tests were required because of the variability of the soils in the region.

Approval in 1988

Sanitarians gave final approval to the septic system in August 1988.

Soil tests after the failure of the Kings' septic system revealed that some soils on the lot were incorrectly mapped by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, Mr. Zeleski said.

The additional tests showed that some soils should have been classified as "wet weather soils," and one type of soil on the property wasn't identified at all on the soil conservation service map.

Wet weather soils are generally unsuitable for septic systems because of poor absorbency and the tendency to swell in high-moisture periods.

"If we had realized [that the King property had wet weather soils] we'd have done the tests earlier when there was more soil moisture, and the tests might not have been as good," Mr. Zeleski said.

The county health department, which is actually a state agency, relies on Soil Conservation Service studies to identify different 00 types of soils in certain regions. But Mr. Zeleski said the soil surveys are just guidelines and are not "100 percent accurate."

Carl Robinette, a soil scientist with the Soil Conservation Service's Frederick office, said it's impossible to include all the soil types in a region in a soil map.

"When mappers are under the gun to map 250 acres a day, they can't possibly see every acre of it," Mr. Robinette said. "I'd be the first to admit that soil surveys are not perfect."

The only other house built in Runnymede Summit belongs to Rusling Blackburn, a general partner with Mayberry Associates, the development group that had planned to build six more houses in the community.

Neighbor has no problem

Mr. Blackburn, who lives next to Mr. King, said he has had no trouble with his septic system.

He said Mr. King's problems are the result of an improperly installed septic system.

"The system was not installed in the area where it was supposed to be installed," Mr. Blackburn said. "It was installed in an area of high water."

Mr. Zeleski said the system was installed to health department ++ regulations.

According to the health department file on Runnymede Summit, Mayberry Associates is exploring the use of nontraditional septic systems, including "sand mounds," so the remaining lots can be developed.

Little recourse

At this point, it appears the Kings have little legal recourse.

Mr. Zeleski said the county health department did nothing wrong and can't be held liable for the septic system's failure.

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