It is difficult to figure out why the residents of one building in the Royal Stewart Arms condominium complex in Dunedin have spent four years arguing with each other rather than hastening to discover why their building is cracking and then fixing it. Do they really want to put their homes at risk to prove a point? The situation calls for compromise.
Royal Stewart Arms is a sprawling condo development on the Dunedin Causeway, near Honeymoon Island State Park. For at least four years the 48-unit Dunoon building in that complex has been moving. Cracks wide enough to poke a finger in have developed in walls. Doorways have gone out of plumb.
St. Petersburg Times staff writer Drew Harwell reported Sunday that in 2006, a city code inspector found gaps, wall cracks and "sinkhole voids" on the property and issued a code violation to the condo board. The board's insurance company hired a company that used local subcontractors to study the property with test borings and ground-penetrating radar. The company, SDII Global, said there was no sinkhole under the building — something residents had feared — but said there was settling because of a leak in a water line that was repaired a decade earlier.
Resident Mick Mroz thought it didn't make sense that damage to the building would be continuing, even worsening, from a water leak repaired years ago. So in 2007 he asked a well-known local geologist and sinkhole expert, Sandy Nettles of Palm Harbor, to review SDII Global's findings. Nettles disagreed with SDII Global and said he saw evidence in the soil borings of a sinkhole. A second reviewer of SDII Global's work, Geohazards Inc. of Gainesville, declared the firm's conclusions "puzzling."
For anyone keeping score, that's 2 to 1. But the condo association board decided SDII Global was correct and declared that no sinkhole exists. Board administrator Joseph "Bucky" Maisto, whose wife is president of the condo board, even told the Times, "You can't have sinkholes on an island." Geologists certainly would disagree with that statement.
Meanwhile, the building continues to shift. Residents continue to argue about the cause and whether it ought to be further explored. Units continue to be bought and sold. Some residents have accused the condo board of covering up evidence of a sinkhole to keep property values from falling.
Sinkholes are common in this part of Florida because the underground limestone can collapse, suddenly or slowly over time. If a sinkhole is confirmed under a building, it can be pumped full of a product that hardens and provides a firmer foundation for the structure. A proper repair allows a building's value to be retained or restored.
The Dunoon condo board and residents need to call a halt to the hostilities and sit down together to work out a plan. They should focus on what's important: keeping residents safe and preserving their homes. Arguing endlessly about who is right and who is wrong is a waste of time.