The Edmond Sun

January 26, 2013

Drainage issue swells up at city meeting

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A recent meeting with the Stormwater Drainage Advisory Board ended with the threat of a class action lawsuit to be filed against the City of Edmond.

SWAB members heard the concerns of two residents of the Belmont Park addition about flooding on their Man O War Drive properties. Both properties of Curtis Cory and Greg Condray were constructed below the grade on the lowest elevation point of the addition, they said.

Water flows to the rear of Cory’s property from four other residences and two lots under construction, all on a berm that is 10-feet higher than the lowest point of his property, based on a city drainage study, he said.

“I think everybody knows why we are here,” Cory said. “We want to find a way to alleviate that water — keep it back to the natural flow where it should have been going between those houses and not being forced to go into our yards to drain and flood our properties.”

Final inspections took place on the properties, said Richard Gabel, manager of building and fire code services. The final building grade was approved at the third inspection, Gabel said.

“I know two times the inspectors went out and said there was a grading issue that looked like they could see on it,” Gabel said.

Trying to fix the problem

Cory couldn’t mow over a long hump on his property and had it removed along with a crinkled drain pipe, knowing it was not draining right, he said. He used slick pipe to reconnect to his backyard and increase the velocity of water flow.

The developer of his property accepted no responsibility for the drainage problem, Cory said. So Cory created a swell to the street to help water drain.

“I spent about $1,500 of my money to try to settle this problem,” Cory said.

He then contacted the City of Edmond to learn how local ordinances protecting homeowners from flooding issues would apply in his case. Homeowners are at the mercy of city codes in trusting properties have been inspected thoroughly, Cory said.

“Who created the problem? It was the builder and the developer,” Cory said. “And since the city didn’t go out and force them to do it to code and fix it in the beginning, they are a responsible party.”

Cory said that he should not be responsible for paying to fix the problem.

“It’s on my footing, it’s on my stem wall, it’s up on my garage door trying to seep in out there,” Cory said. “It’s trying to rot dry line. The No. 1 killer is water in homes with termites and the whole 9 yards with mold.”

Condray, who purchased his home in 2006, said there were two 100-year-flood events in 2007.

“I was actually out of town and one of my neighbors sandbagged off my back porch,” Condray said of the storm that February.

Condray has had his property re-graded twice, put in French drains and had a landscaping company re-sod his yard.

“It just all washes away, but it doesn’t take a very big rain event at all for the water to back up on my patio. It’s just a matter of how close it comes to the door,” said Condray, a geologist who has done water planning. “I haven’t had water in the house. The French drains are working fine.”

Relying on Title 23

Cory shared a series of photos with SWAB members that shows water surging down his backyard to his house and beyond the side of his property that he shares with Condray. The homes to the north of the properties were built after their Man O War houses were constructed, said Condray, the first owner of his property.

“That is my air conditioner with the water coming across 4-inches up above it,” Cory said.

Built in 2007, Cory and his wife purchased the house in the fall 2010. An inspector had told him that a water leak in the home had been caused by a frozen refrigerator pipe, he told The Edmond Sun in August.

On the side of the driveway he noticed a strange hump separating the property from the home next door. An outlet with a French drain was at the end of the outlet next to Condray’s property, he said.

“Once you move in you find your problems. You can’t inspect them out. You’ve got to live in them,” Cory said.

Late winter came with heavy rain. Cory stood at his back door and began seeing water piling up over his patio.

“Then I did realize at that point — I had never even noticed — that the house was built at the grade of the back yard,” Cory said in August. “There was no 4-6 inches of stem wall separating me from the water that flows from the back of the lot.”

Cory said he thought he would be protected by the city’s Title 23 codes. These codes were not enforced by the city in his case, Cory said, when the Belmont Park addition was submitted for the City Council’s site plan approval.

“There’s nobody at the city who seems to want to enforce it because they tell me they don’t have enough time or manpower to tell me which way the water is going to flow,” Cory said.

Title 23 codes changed in 2006 and 2009, Gabel said.

“I don’t know if it really helps or hurts, or they’re just changing the language to be changing it,” Gabel continued. “But all it asks to do is divert the water away from the foundation of the wall so it doesn’t pond up against the structure, which can affect the foundation over time.

“As far as the amount of water you say you’re having come in there with the rains, I don’t know if I have a good response to that, because in the building department we deal with each lot and from the time we issue the permits to the time we go out to look at the final grade — that’s only made at the final inspection.”

Gabel said the final inspection cannot determine the final grade when there are piles of dirt and debris on the property. However, he said the inspector visualizes the property to make sure water would divert away from the foundation.

“Beyond that, the code doesn’t really address it,” Gabel said. Gabel asked how to determine if a slope has changed since a final inspection is made.

“I’m just saying we don’t know what the final grade looked like when our inspectors saw it and what you’ve got now,” Gabel said.

Department responsibilities limited

City Engineer Steve Manek said the Engineering Department reviews erosion when proposed plats are presented with engineering designs for streets, not individual lots or homes. Inspections are made on streets, storm sewer and water lines after a home is constructed, he said. Plans are sent for the City Council’s approval, which allows a developer to settle the lots.

After public improvements are made, individual lot owners are in charge of erosion control without the developer, Manek said.

“The first time we know about something is when the homeowner calls in after the home is built and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem,’” Manek said.

Larger swells and a diversion would be needed to solve the problem on the parcels, he added. Drains clog with leaves and grass clippings and are not meant to handle storm water run-off, Manek said.

Putting in swells, raising of fences and the grading of yards are suggestions that Manek said the city makes to homeowners with storm water run-off problems.

Gabel asked how to determine water flow if there is no water flowing. Determining a slope can be the trick of the eye, he said.

Condray asked if the city inspects properties for swells. City codes only require water to be diverted away from a foundation, Gabel said.

“It doesn’t tell you how to construct it,” Gabel said. “We’re not here to design this for you, design the landscaping. That’s what professionals are supposed to be doing.”

Condray asked if follow-up inspections are made to see if the subsequent construction of homes increases the water run-off of his own home due to slope increases.

“You’re looking at a house-by-house basis and not a cumulative affect. Is that correct?” Condray asked.

Gabel said the city’s inspections do not address if water is ponding or interacting away from the individual home that takes up a small portion of a lot.

“Our concern is for the structure,” Gabel said.

Condray said it would be good if a process could be in place to minimize the impact between structures. His house is being impacted by homes built in 2012, he said.

The process is for the developer, said Victoria Caldwell, city councilwoman.

“It seems quite odd to me to live in Oklahoma and experience the first flooding I’ve ever had and I lived in New Orleans for eight years,” Condray said. “I’m over $10,000 in this out of my own pocket.”

End of conversation

Mayor Charles Lamb lives in a neighborhood that was built before Edmond codes were sophisticated, he said.

“My neighbor spent quite a bit of money over the summer to reshape her yard to address a front yard drainage problem,” Lamb said. “So it happens that you address change that goes along.”

Time had altered the path of water coming to her neighbor’s yard with a change in trees, soil condition and topography, Lamb said.

Soil placement has stayed the same in each property Cory has lived in Edmond since he was born in 1950, Cory said.

“I go to this new house I have. I see the fact it was improperly done to start with and yet we want to blame everybody else and not put it on the builder to do what he was supposed to have done in the first place,” Cory said. “And that was to protect me from being excessively watered, keeping it going away from my property and to the house he was working on.

“And I just want to make that for the record so when we do come to sue, we gave you the opportunity, and we will hold the City of Edmond liable as well and named in the lawsuit.”

Lamb said the mention of litigation ends the conversation.

“My point when I was trying to make my analogy was that property owners have responsibility to maintain their property,” Lamb continued. “My neighbor put a new swell in to address her condition. You’re taking no initiative to do any swelling in your own yard. If you want to put blame on and you want to go sue us, then I guess that’s what you have to do.”

New language needed for Title 23?

Cory said the City of Edmond is not concerned with its residents but only the builders of new homes. Condray said he feels his interests as a taxpayer are not being addressed by the city.

“… When I saw what was happening behind us, the development back to the north, I became quite concerned because you eliminated a lot of ground cover,” Condray said.

Condray’s home has become a money pit, he said.

Gabel said the problem is not something that makes him feel good, either.

“The only thing we can do at this point is put in more code language, more directions, more requirements,” Gabel said. “We can do that, but the other side of that is now we’re going to have people angry with us because we’re coming in and telling people what to do on their own property.”