A nightmare. Helpless. Unscrupulous.
Those are some of the words residents of New Bern’s Lake View subdivision are using to describe their experiences with Nolan Commercial Contractors, Inc, a Jacksonville-based construction company they claim has neglected to address structural and drainage problems on their properties.
A number of Lake View residents came before the New Bern Board of Aldermen in February and again at their March 14 meeting to ask the city for help in holding the contractor accountable.
Sharon Broaddus, a resident of Betty Gresham Lane, told the board she believed homes in the 2900 – 2908 addresses of the street were in “continued imminent danger of flooding” due to faulty grading of their properties. She said homeowners have continued to reach out to NCCI owner Nolan Sydes but have received little response. One Lake View homeowner, she said, received an email stating that NCCI was working with Thomas Engineering to resolve the issue.
“We have seen no proof of this nor has a date been sent when work will begin,” Broaddus said. “This is of utmost importance as the rainy spring season approaches, with the hurricane season starting June 1.”
Broaddus noted that Lake View is designated a low-risk flood area by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, meaning homeowners are not required to have flood insurance.
“Now we have a manmade flood zone,” she said. “I have already spent thousands of dollars doing what I can to prevent water from coming into the back of the home, but it is not enough when the entire backyard tilts towards the back of the house.”
Broaddus said she was concerned by what she sees as a lack of interest from both the builder and the city.
“How can the City of New Bern, who signs off on the certificate of occupancy, allow this type of behavior to continue from builders?” she asked.
Broaddus’ neighbor, Carolyn Adams, also discussed flooding problems in her backyard and described NCCI as “dishonest.” Adams said the company led her and her husband to believe they were working with the city to resolve the issue but were unable to obtain any further information.
“They seem to be using the city as a scapegoat and we’re hoping you can get them to at least stop lying to us about your involvement in this matter,” she said.
City Manager Foster Hughes said he was unaware of anyone from NCCI contacting the city.
Hughes said he sent a letter to the company last year outlining the concerns of Lake View residents but had received no response.
Another Betty Gresham Lane. resident, Daniel Martin, said he shared a sense of helplessness with the other speakers. Martin said his main concern was drain traps that flow into a ditch beside his house and impact the subdivision’s nearby 14-acre lake.
“It has eroded out for the second time well over 3-feet deep and about 4-feet wide to the point that there’s a mud flat washed out into the lake,” he said. “This builder has made no effort to respond to anybody…This is the first home I’ve ever owned, and it’s been a nightmare trying to get this taken care of.”
Residents just south of Martin on Loretta Lane also described numerous problems with NCCI, including structural issues such as warped doors and drywall mudding left unfinished.
B.J. Honeycutt said she felt that Loretta Lane residents had been taken advantage of by NCCI.
“They were lied to, but they still bought the house because NCCI had them just like they had us…somebody has to hold this builder accountable,” she commented.
But according to City Attorney Scott Davis there is little the city can do to help Lake View residents. Davis explained that under N.C. general statute a city’s governing body is only empowered to enforce the state building code, which he described as outlining “the minimum that the state thinks is safe.”
Davis stressed that if a licensed contractor applies for a building permit and pays the required fee, the city is legally obligated to issue that permit.
“We can’t pick and choose who we think the better builders are,” Davis said. “The state makes that decision when it gives them a license. The city’s legal authority is to make sure they have a license.”
Davis invited residents to get an engineer to inspect their properties to see if the state code had been met and then report back to the city’s inspection department. He said he believed both the state and the city had exhausted its regulatory authority to ensure NCCI’s compliance.
“Local government’s inspection departments are not guarantors of perfect construction,” Davis said. “They’re there to review and inspect and enforce compliance with the code, but if mistakes are made by a local government there is no liability for missing something with compliance with the building code.”
Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Aster said he had been on-site to look at some of the problems.
“We really do not have the authority to put a stop to this contractor,” Aster said.
Mayor Jeffrey Odham directed city staff to review any notes made during the construction process concerning drainage or structural problems on the properties of residents who had come before the board.
Odham said himself, Aster, the city manager and the city inspector would go out and look at the sites.
“We need to be very clear and succinct in what we’re saying of what’s in our purview and what’s not,” he said. “There’s no reason for them (residents) to come month after month if there’s nothing we can do.”