Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon council settles claim with Quail Hollow residents

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Monday, May 31, 2010 12:03 AM EDT

VERNON — The Town Council voted to pay condominium owners in the Quail Hollow complex $16,840 to settle a claim from residents that said drainage problems and other design issues have been ignored by the town for nearly a decade.

In a letter to Mayor Jason L. McCoy dated Oct. 29, 2009, Ann D’Onofrio, secretary of the Quail Hollow Condominium Association, which represents residents of the age-restricted complex, outlined residents’ complaints.

“As you are well aware we here at Quail Hollow Condominiums have a serious drainage problem at 37 and 38 Quail Hollow Close which has been persistent for the past eight years. The original drainage plans have never been found and therefore we have no way of knowing if this community was built to specifications,” D’Onofrio wrote.

Located off Dart Hill Road near the South Windsor town line, the Quail Hollow development was first approved in April 2000. Two additional building phases have swelled the “55 and over” complex from an initial 74 units to around 160.

D’Onofrio cited two letters from former Town Engineer Tim Timberman to Quail Hollow developer Brian Edwards.

In a letter dated April 28, 2003, Timberman said the grass swale behind the condos appeared to be inadequate to handle stormwater discharge and “the runoff into this swale by the roof leaders and sump pump discharge seems to exasperate the situation.”

Timberman recommended Edwards install a drainage pipe and series of catch basins along the swale, but D’Onofrio said nothing was ever done.

In a second letter from Timberman dated Aug. 5, 2004, D’Onofrio said Edwards was told that “the infiltrator for 38 Quail Hollow Close does not appear to be functioning,” and Timberman recommended Edwards disconnect the roof leaders and sump pump from it.

As far as condo owners are aware, the town never followed up on the situation to see if the corrections were made, D’Onofrio wrote.

In addition, D’Onofrio wrote that resident Lou Mager made written requests for inspections from the building inspector in December 2006 and January 2007, also sending copies to Christopher Clark, the town administrator at that time, but the town never responded, D’Onofrio wrote.

D’Onofrio also included a list of other fundamental design flaws and problems she said have been overlooked:

“In addition to our drainage problems, none of the decks on our units are/were ‘lag bolted’ to the units. None of our sump holes are built to code. Some of us have a gallon pail and others have nothing where the sump pump connections are,” she wrote. “A large number of driveways are being undermined by water and caving in. In a few houses we discovered that the drain from the gutters only goes about six inches deep into the ground and stops! Where was any inspection to protect us?

“We question the performance and legality of your town employees regarding this situation. We are hopeful that we can work together quickly, quietly, and successfully to resolve this drainage issue without having it escalate to the next level,” D’Onofrio concluded.

Council members discussed the issue during a closed executive session at their May 4 meeting, but one member refused to participate in the dialogue because of the way the session’s agenda item was worded.

The text of the original item said that the council would move into executive session to discuss “potential claims,” against the town, but Democrat Michael Winkler said the council could only go into executive session to discuss claims or lawsuits that have already been filed.

McCoy said Winkler was incorrect, but changed the agenda item to say that the council would go into executive session “to discuss the claim by Quail Hollow against the town of Vernon.”

Winkler still refused to go into the meeting, saying he did not feel comfortable about the process that was taking place.

Council members Daniel Anderson, Sean O’Shea, and Pauline Schaefer were absent from the meeting, but the remainder of the council went into executive session along with Town Administrator John Ward, Town Engineer Terry McCarthy, and Town Attorney Harold Cummings.

The council voted unanimously to resolve Quail Hollow residents’ claims against the town with a $16,840 settlement.

D’Onofrio’s letter of claim was not filed with the town clerk, and Ward declined to provide a copy of the letter to the Journal Inquirer despite repeated requests over several weeks, saying that he was “still working on things.”

Ward and Executive Assistant Diane Wheelock also said that it is the responsibility of the complainant to file claims with the clerk’s office, not the town.

McCoy provided a copy of the letter in an e-mail on Tuesday, along with quotes from four contractors with estimates of the cost to correct the drainage issues ranging from $16,250 to $26,336.

McCoy has been on the council since January 1999, but was only elected mayor in November 2007, leaving his administration to answer for the unresolved disputes that originated while former Mayor Ellen L. Marmer was in office.

In addition, former Building Inspector and Zoning Enforcement Officer Gene F. Bolles died in March 2007, and both Timberman and Clark, who are the only other town officials specifically cited in D’Onofrio’s letter, no longer work for the town.

Timberman’s status as town engineer was called into question in early 2006 after it was discovered he had been working without a professional engineer’s license for at least five years. Timberman, who was hired to the position in 1989, said he had accidentally let his license lapse. He was suspended without pay for less than a month until his license was reinstated, but resigned two years later.

Clark resigned from his position as town administrator in July 2008 to take a similar position in Southbridge, Mass.

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