As one rainy day gives way to another this spring, the Clayton ground is soft. Some town residents, though, say their ground is not only soft, it’s moving.
At last week’s Clayton Town Council meeting, two next door neighbors in Creekside Commons, Joe Motta and Deborah Johnson, said the earth is separating behind their homes.
Both live on Yadkin Street in the still developing neighborhood. Each has houses on either side of them, but their front doors look out onto empty lots. In the rains of last week, those lots were mere mounds of mud, but Motta and Johnson say their woes are greater than water, though that’s part of it.
“The back of the homes on Yadkin, the soil is just eroding,” Johnson told the council. “I mean, there are just big cracks, holes, and eventually it’s going to come down, according to (Clayton engineer John) McCullen.”
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In addition to McCullen, Johnson said, Charles Pender of the Johnston County building-inspections department had been out to inspect one such crack, probing it with a measuring stick
“If he’d let it go, it would have went all the way down in some spots,” Johnson said.
The crack that worries Johnson runs along land owned by the developer and along Clayton’s future Southern Connector, a years-away road project designed to make it easier to get around the south part of town. Depressions are visible between some of the homes and the sidewalk, with trees tilting away from the street.
Johnson moved in February of last year and Motta in July. They each added fences to their backyards, Johnson’s a tall white vinyl and Motta’s unpainted wood. Johnson points out what she said is a recent dip in her panels, something that suggests a rolling hillside fence out in the country, not a level yard in an in-town neighborhood.
Motta said the company that built his fence won’t guarantee the work because of the sinkhole inching toward his lot.
“I spent over $5,700 on my fence, and I cannot get it guaranteed because the sinkhole is creeping up on my property,” Motta said.
ACSO Builders of Raleigh developed the land for Creekside Commons, and KB Homes, which has communities in seven other states, built the homes. Motta said initially KB Homes responded to the depression with some dirt and mulch, but that that has since collapsed too.
Johnson offered up emails exchanged with KB Homes warranty manager Doug Nacewicz in which he said he had been in touch with McCullen, the Clayton engineer, and suggested responsibility rested with the developer, not the builder.
“The developer has not provided KB Home any additional information since the issue is between the developer and the municipality at this point,” Nacewicz wrote in an email to Johnson.
Nacewicz did not return calls seeking comment, but KB Homes spokeswoman Cara Kane said the company is sending a crew out to the neighborhood to investigate where responsibility lies.
Matt Stephens of ASCO Builders said that because he had not been at the town council meeting to hear what was said, he did not want to comment.
Motta said he came to the town council to see if he had any recourse.
“We need some help,” he said. “We’re getting shuffled around; nobody wants to take any kind of responsibility.”
Town Councilman Butch Lawter visited the neighborhood the day after the council meeting.
“There’s a problem there, no doubt about it,” Lawter said. “But to me, it’s not something the town is responsible for repairing. ... One of my concerns all along is whether Clayton is getting a proportional share of the attention it deserves from the county for erosion control. There are broader issues than Creekside.”
Across town in the Mitchiner Hills neighborhood behind Cooper Elementary School, Samuel Banks’ backyard isn’t sinking so much as washing away, he told the town council.
The rainy spring has cut a canyon in his backyard, driven largely by the steep grade of the neighborhood. Next door, Banks said, the developer put down sod to try stop the erosion, but the sod has since crumpled like carpet into the crack in the ground. All around in Banks’ cul de sac, bright orange clay shines in backyards instead of grass.
That Banks’ home is new, finished in January, is not reason enough for the shifting soil, he said.
“The way it is, it’s never going to have a chance to grow,” he said of the grass.
Town Manager Steve Biggs said the town anticipated that the steep grade and clay soil would be a problem.
“In Mitchiner Hills, just as a public reminder, we denied that request initially, because we thought the given soil conditions, which we specifically referenced, and the topography, which we specifically referenced, and the cuts that would be involved with that development were a bad idea and a bad design,” Biggs said. “We were taken to court, and we lost.”
Town Councilman Jason Thompson said he wasn’t sure what powers of the council allowed it to respond to the citizens’ complaints.
“Based on citizen concerns, there’s such a broad kind of stuff brought up, like erosion and sinkholes, I would just like to see some sort of message that explains to us as elected officials what’s our responsibility regarding their specific complaints,” Thompson said.
Lawter said the council can do little, at least in these cases.
“We can remind the developer,” he said. “Or there’s talk of withholding permits.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson