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Willowbrook: An Accident that has Already Happened


BRADENTON – Willowbrook homeowners say they only get the runaround when they go to the county for help with their KB Home nightmare experience. Now they are faced with property insurance cancellation, counter law-suits and financial ruin from the tactics KBH customarily uses to perpetuate their product. But it is not just being abandoned by county commissioners, the building director, and KBH, that residents are worried about. They say they are living in a time bomb that only needs one major hurricane to set it off – and take the 272-unit condo development with it. 


It has been a year since the Manatee Board of County Commissioners promised KB Home property owners expeditious action in dealing with the egregious building violations and unsafe living conditions many residents of the Willowbrook development have been forced to live with. Building and Development Director, John Barnott, has avoided any responsibility for the horrid conditions and possibly criminal activity that he said flew under the director's radar.

When Andrea, the first named tropical storm of the season, appeared on weather reports, some Manatee county residents had good reason to fear for their lives, and the hundreds more that live in the Willowbrook vicinity.

What they feared was complete ruins, like what happened 20 years ago with the name-sake storm, Hurricane Andrew. There too, a few dozen shoddily-built homes without hurricane straps, blew apart hundreds of others as their 20 ton roofs tumbled with the force of a 140 MPH wind.  

No matter how well built a structure is, few can stand the blow of tons of roof trusses along with all of the other material that's torn apart in a storm. Building codes are not just designed to protect the house being occupied, but the ones and the people surrounding it as well. 

"Andrew was mostly a wind issue, and actually a wake-up call," said Ricardo Alvarez, a researcher who specializes in hurricane protection. He stated the county had good building codes, but the difference was how some of the houses downed in Andrew were built, and in this case the county had allowed the builders to use cost-saving shortcuts.

Andrew's damage is estimated to be more that $25 billion, second only to Katrina. The body count was 15, plus another 25 lives were lost from indirect effects. It was a small storm, but with fierce winds, and it came with little warning.

Residents of Willowbrook want to know who will be responsible if something similar happens in Manatee County. They say, unlike Andrew, the county officials won't have to wait for a forensic investigation to discover the shoddy construction (missing hurricane straps and other required hardware), they have known about for years.  

In the past year, Willowbrook residents have brought their complaints to the BOCC chambers four times, and each time they feel they only got lip service and false promises. 

"We're dammed if we do, and dammed if we don't" says Willowbrook resident Andy Smith. These are the only options available to the KB Homeowners at Willowbrook."


Smith, who continues to plea with county officials to protect him and his neighbors from the practices of the KB Home builders, said it's the county, who takes fees to ensure construction is inspected to code, that is responsible to make sure all buildings are built according to them.

The faulty construction, agonizing mold and the dangerous conditions (falling balconies, separating walls and hazardous tinpot electrical) are issues that disgruntled homeowners notified the county of years ago, They say their grievances have been ignored.  

Since December of 2009, Roxanne Miller has been crying for help. She said, "My house never should have passed inspection when it was built. There were water leaks, bare wires, no smoke alarms in the empty holes they were supposed to be in, and the floor moved when you walked on it."

Willowbrook's Dan Koehler is another one of the many residents we have reported on over the last year. He too was forced to live with 100 percent humidity, a fallen balcony and a chronically sick child. Like the others, Koehler tried to get county officials to respond.

Barnott says the county is not liable for the consequences of faulty construction, and the commission echoes his words. I am not sure how much comfort that brings residents from all corners of the county; but should something happen, the final decision might not rest in their court.

KBH homeowners at Willowbrook say they are now getting help in their quest to hold KBH and the county accountable for their errors from Senator Bill Nelson and State Attorney General, Pam Bondi. Homeowners say they now have information that proves the county knew about the problems long before they brought it to the BOCC.

Residents say they want to ask for Barnott's resignation or suspension of duty until a thorough investigation can be done by the state, and maybe even the federal government. Surely, if even an unexpected 80 MPH wind gust picked up one of the unstrapped roofs and threw it onto the house across the street, perhaps taking a life with it, greater measures will be taken. Hopefully it won't take such a tragedy to inspire action on the homeowners' behalf.  



KB Must Stand For Ka-Boom

Published Tuesday, October 16, 2012 12:10 am

KB Home: Building Boom or House of Cards?

Published Saturday, September 29, 2012 12:03 am

KB Homeowners Plea to BOCC for Help

Published Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:00 pm


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