NEW PORT RICHEY — Residents along the stretch of Willow Brook Court closed by sinkholes in Hudson’s Lakeside Woodlands neighborhood will finally get the relief they have sought over much of the last two years.
The Pasco County Commission on Tuesday agreed to spend $1.4 million out of their general fund to buy out the six homes along the closed stretch of road, demolish the homes and return the land there into a drainage area.
The area is perched above an underground cave system. After the county explored the appearance of multiple depressions in the neighborhood in an adjacent retention pond, along the road and elsewhere, they determined that the road was unsafe and could not be fixed, so they permanently closed it.
In May, residents along Willow Brook Court made a direct plea to the commissioners, telling stories of the nightmare they have been living ever since the depressions appeared. Their homes make disturbing noises and have developed cracks, and they can’t receive services from roofers, plumbers and air conditioning repair and replacement specialists, because the companies can’t bring their vehicles or equipment to the houses.
Residents have to roll their garbage down their street to where it can be picked up, and they use carts and wheelbarrows to transport groceries to their homes from where they must park their cars. The residents also voiced concern about access for emergency vehicles.
Emergency management officials have kept in touch with the affected families and have worked to find grants and federal funding to provide relief. But the unique circumstance didn’t fit normal funding rules, and each grant sought has been denied.
Presented with the options of doing nothing, continuing to explore issues with rebuilding the road — despite geo-technical reports that said it couldn’t be done — or buying out the homeowners’ properties, the commission opted to spend the money to buy out the homeowners and resolve the issue. Only Commissioners Christina Fitzpatrick voted no, voicing a concern that it might set a precedent.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said that the County Commission had stepped in to help when a massive sinkhole swallowed homes in Land O’ Lakes several years ago. Like that case, these problems with sinkholes were not of the residents’ making, and in the case of the Hudson families, the closed county road was impacting the quality of life for families, senior citizens and children.
“I think that what we should do is buy these homes out and tear them down safely,” Mariano said.
Mariano also hoped the county could fix the roadway on either side of the closed area where depressions continue to happen, so that the entire stretch of the road could be made whole.
Commissioner Mike Moore clarified the difference between the Land O’ Lakes sinkhole outbreak and the Hudson case. The homes impacted in Land O’ Lakes were able to collect from insurance on their private property. In Hudson, the roadway closure is a county issue.
As the county has sought other funding solutions, Commission Kathryn Starkey has gone to various agencies to find some way to help the neighborhood. “This is a really unusual situation,” she said. “I am in support” of the county buyout.
“It’s no fault of their own,” Mariano said. “It’s the right thing to do.”