Residents await answers on gas found in homes Some want testing, others want ventilators or reimbursement

Health fears persist

November 06, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

In July, two months before three families were evacuated from their homes in the Calvert Ridge subdivision in Elkridge because of high levels of methane gas, two families in a Laurel subdivision who own houses also built by Ryan Homes were forced out for the same reason.

The evacuated occupants in Laurel's Wyndham Woods and those in Calvert Ridge and nearby Marshalee Estates subdivision -- where a family was evacuated last month -- want answers from Ryan officials about the source of the methane, which has heightened safety concerns and contributed to lower property values, they say. The Laurel families moved out July 25 and were back home a week later.

"My main problem with Ryan Homes is that they took so long getting in touch with us after we had to leave our home," said Lori Wilson, 31, of the 15400 block of Straughn Drive, who temporarily moved in with a friend. "No one had a plan of action about how they were going to get us back into our home."

Residents in Calvert and Marshalee Estates said the situation in Laurel never came up in their discussions with Ryan Homes.

"We asked Ryan specifically if they've ever had a problem with methane gas and they told us point-blank that they never ran into anything like this before," said Eric Muller, spokesman for Calvert Ridge homeowners. "We weren't aware of the situation in Laurel."

Four homeowners in Calvert Ridge who are negotiating a settlement with Ryan Homes are close to an agreement, sources say.

Ryan Homes spokesman Robert Coursey acknowledged that the similar situations in Laurel and Elkridge are "strange" but added that methane could be found almost anywhere.

That explanation does not satisfy residents, many of whom spent their life savings to buy their "dream homes."

"I think it's interesting that what has happened here has also happened in Elkridge," said Wilson. "The only thing I can think of is that Ryan Homes is building on cheap land that no one else wants."

For two months, Wilson has talked with longtime residents around Wyndham Woods about the land's history before it was bought and developed by Pinnacle Real Estate.

"From what I've been told, this was a forest," Wilson said. "No one has told me that there was ever a landfill here."

That contrasts with what Calvert Ridge residents learned was underneath their homes. Developer and Brantley Group President John Liparini acknowledged that the homes had been built on a refilled sand and gravel quarry that was the site of illegal dumping.

Reimbursement wanted

Wilson, who moved back into her home after she paid to have a ventilation system installed, sees a difference in how Ryan Homes handled the Elkridge situation: The builder refused to reimburse her for installation of the ventilation system.

"They told me to call my insurance company," Wilson said. "They told us that they could not accept responsibility for what had happened."

Wilson said Ryan Homes recently agreed to reimburse her for the ventilation system.

'Helpful' meeting

On Oct. 28, Peter A. Lyons, a Ryan Homes vice president, met with several Wyndham Woods homeowners about the methane problem. In a letter mailed to subdivision residents this week, Ryan Homes offered to install ventilation systems and gas monitors in homes in the subdivision.

"We thought the meeting was helpful and believe the homeowners present did as well," Lyons wrote. "While we believe the presence of naturally occurring methane gas at Wyndham Woods poses no threat to the safety of you and your neighbors, we wish to be proactive in addressing the issue."

Some Wyndham Woods residents say they are angry that it took the methane situation in Elkridge to get Ryan Homes to act.

"We've been waiting for months to hear from Ryan Homes, and they have not told us anything," said Sue Pate. "The gas detectors might help, but we still need testing done."

Wyndham Woods residents want Ryan Homes to hire engineers to test for the methane source, as was done for Calvert Ridge and Marshalee Estates. A Ryan official was unavailable for comment yesterday to address whether Ryan Homes will test at Wyndham Woods.

Ryan has promised to share the test results from Calvert Ridge and Marshalee Estates with residents and Howard County officials, but none has received results.

"We are still awaiting a report from Ryan Homes," said David M. Hammerman, director of the Howard County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits.

Homeowners in the Elkridge subdivisions received a letter Oct. 13 from Kevin Kerwin, a Ryan Homes vice president, requesting permission to install ventilation systems. Homeowners were told the offer would end Oct. 29.

Ryan Homes began installing ventilation systems in some Calvert Ridge and Marshalee Estates homes this week.

"So far, almost all of the homeowners in both subdivisions have expressed an interest in having the ventilation system installed in their homes," said Coursey, who did not have a specific number of those accepting the offer.

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