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VOL. 121 | NO. 149 | Friday, July 28, 2006

Flood Zone?

Couple files suit against Hyneman and others for flooding on property

By Rosalind Guy

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FENCED IN: Rena Jeffries and her husband, Willie, are suing developer Rusty Hyneman and others for improper drainage - and flooding - at their home near Shelby Drive. -- Photograph By Rosalind Guy

When Willie and Rena Jeffries bought their home in 1995, the property directly behind theirs was being used as a horse pasture.

In the years since, a major developer has turned the pasture into a subdivision - and turned their 2,600-square-foot, two-story home into a major disaster area, they allege in a lawsuit filed last week in Shelby County Chancery Court.

In the complaint, the Jeffries accuse developer William "Rusty" Hyneman of failing to take proper precautions to prevent their property from being flooded when he installed the drainage system for the Pinnacle Point Subdivision in unincorporated Shelby County along Shelby Drive Road. The subdivision is directly adjacent to the Jeffries' home at 4923 Hickory Knoll Lane in the Hickory Knoll Subdivision.

Hyneman has been plagued with negative media attention the last couple of years after it was discovered that he had helped City Council Chairman Edmund Ford lease a $50,000 Cadillac and bought airline tickets for former County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr., among other things.

This is not the first time the spotlight has been on Hyneman because of one of his projects. In 2005, he faced charges and heavy fines for polluting streams at several East Shelby County subdivisions, including Pinnacle Point, Carlton Ridge and Carlyle Place.

Flooded with difficulties

In 2003, Hyneman's Rusco Co. began developing the land near the Jeffries' property.

The civil lawsuit charges that Hyneman altered the natural topography of the land and failed to provide for proper drainage from the development. The improper drainage, the suit charges, has diverted water onto the couple's property, causing damages and creating a nuisance.

Numerous calls to Hyneman's attorney, Allan Wade, were not returned by press time.

The flooding of the Jeffries' home started around March 2004 after the first house went up in the new subdivision, Rena claims.

"My house flooded," she said. "I had 3 to 4 inches of water in the house."

Because the Jeffries didn't have flood insurance, they paid out of pocket to repair the damage, which totaled more than $4,600. Flood insurance wasn't an issue for the couple when they bought their home, because at the time, they were not in a flood zone. So they didn't buy it.

"I had damage to my furniture, to my carpet," she said. "We had new carpet laid down and everything."

The house flooded a second time in 2005. By that time, the couple was becoming increasingly frustrated, trying to figure out how to keep their home from being damaged further, Rena Jeffries said.

High tide, high toll

Willie Jeffries suggested selling the home. But Rena, who'd worked as a Realtor with Lester Hubbard Realtors, knew they would have to disclose the history of the property to a potential buyer.

"Who'd buy it?" she asked.

Bone-Picking Time
Plaintiffs: Willie and Rena Jeffries
Defendants: Rusty Hyneman, Bowden Building Corp., David Miller and homeowners John H. and LaToya Jones, Horace L. and Alvia Harris, Bobby and Norma J. Ervin and Gerald W. and Jacqueline M. Becker
Date Filed: July 20
Problem: Flooding of the Jeffries' home three times since March 2004
Summons have been issued for all defendants,
but not served.

So, she started contacting everyone she could think of who could help her with the situation, including Joyce Avery, who serves District 4 on the Shelby County Commission.

"She sent out her person, which is (county engineer) Michael Oakes," Rena said. "He came out talked to me and everything."

Oakes took photos of the Jeffries' home and suggested they lift their fence off the ground about 6 inches and take out alternating slats of the fence. Planted deeply in the ground with slats tightly squeezed together, the Jeffries' fence was acting as a dam, Oakes said.

"Water coming from the street running down there can run down and flood up against the fence and then create a situation where the water ends up going in their front door," Oakes said. "If water gets high enough, the front door acts like a spillway."

Jeffries said she followed the suggestions offered by Oakes and Shelby County senior land development engineer Robert Evans, who also visited the property and took pictures.
But the things they told her to try didn't work, she said.

Finger-pointing galore

The Shelby County Engineer's Office reviews developers' projects and plans. Personnel there worked with Hyneman to make changes to the original drainage system.

"We did work with the developer in getting some changes done to the system as it was originally built," Oakes said. "We were hoping that would resolve all the issues. But we also recommended to (Rena) that she do something about the fence."

David Miller LLC and Bowden Building Corp. also are named as co-defendants in the complaint. The titles for the property were transferred to Miller and Bowden, who built homes in the subdivision.

The complaint goes on to state Miller and Bowden altered the natural topography of the land by bringing in too much dirt and raising the property to a higher elevation, failed to provide for proper water flow and drainage and made improvements that diverted the water flow onto the Jeffries' property, causing damages and creating a nuisance.

Levitt Corp. bought Bowden Building in 2004 and now is called Levitt and Sons. Phone calls to Jim Ludwig, Levitt's marketing manager, were not returned by press time.

David Miller did return a call, but said it was the first time he'd heard of the situation.

"But what we do is we get signed plans from the city and the county and we follow those plans," Miller said.

The drainage systems have always worked in the past, Miller added.

"I wish these people had contacted me, but to date, no one has contacted me from the Jeffries family," he said. "They asked for no corrective action, they just decided to file suit on somebody."

From here to - where?

But the Jeffries' attorney, James Bingham, said the couple did try to keep the situation from coming to a head.

"Mr. and Mrs. Jeffries did everything they could to try and get this problem solved before having to resort to filing a lawsuit," Bingham said, referring to numerous phone calls Rena made to the County Engineer's.Office.

For years, Bingham said, the neighboring land was undeveloped and the Jeffries had no flooding problem. When Pinnacle Point was created, the flooding began, he said.

And he said his clients have been trying since 2003 to get the local and state government's attention so something could be done to prevent the flooding. In addition to calling Shelby County Land Development Engineer Bob Evans, Rena also called the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and sent e-mails to investigative reporter Andy Wise of WREG News Channel 3.

Also named as defendants in the suit are the Jeffries' neighbors, John H. and LaToya Jones, Horace L. and Alvia Harris, Bobby and Norma J. Ervin and Gerald W. and Jacqueline M. Becker, all of whom bought homes in Pinnacle Point.

Messages left at numbers believed to belong to the homeowners were not returned by press time. Also as of press time, none of the defendants had been served with a summons, though court records indicate summons have been issued by the court and signed for by the Shelby County Sheriff's Department.

The next step is for the defendants to respond to the action being taken against them. They either may respond by saying they are willing to take care of the problem, or the case can land before a judge if no solution can be reached out of court.

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