Citrus County for months has promised beleaguered residents of an Inverness neighborhood that allies are in line to jump aboard its fight against a developer.
Enter the Department of Environmental Protection.
DEP is seeking a temporary injunction to stop Van Der Valk Construction from building homes in Inverness Villages Unit 4.
The DEP, in a lawsuit filed in early November, accuses Van Der Valk and associated companies of constructing houses without environmental permits, and discharging polluted stormwater into nearby wetlands. The case was filed in a Citrus County circuit court.
It seeks in excess of $50,000. According to the complaint, construction activity on more than 90 lots is damaging adjacent wetlands; Van Der Valk faces $15,000-a-day fines for each violation.
The injunction, filed Nov. 29, asks that all construction activities cease until the case is heard in court.
Citrus County and property owner Anton Van Usen are locked into a fierce debate over who is responsible to pave roads and provide drainage in Inverness Villages 4, a development of about 400 houses just outside the Inverness city limits.
Inverness Villages 4 is an oddity in that the roads are technically publicly owned but the county has no legal responsibility to pave them. As a result, streets are easily washed-out during rainstorms; a resident’s recent Facebook post, shared by a Citrus County blogger, showed a video of a UPS truck sinking in the street mud.
Citrus County Commissioner Holly Davis, whose district includes Inverness Villages, has worked for more than a year trying to find a solution. The county in April placed a moratorium on new building permits in the development with the hopes of convincing Van Usen to negotiate a solution. The county also wanted to prevent Van Usen from building on lots that could be used for drainage.
The county spent $35,000 on an engineering study to identify the potential costs for homeowners to pave roads and provide drainage. It was eyeopener: $109,000 per lot.
Davis, now the board chairman, said she was devastated with the figure, but so far has not offered alternatives.
Commissioners haven’t discussed their next move, even as more Inverness Villages 4 residents attend County Commission meetings, demanding answers. The construction moratorium, approved in three-month chunks, expires in January.
The moratorium will be moot if DEP receives the injunction.
DEP site visits continued to show an “absence of best management practices, poor housekeeping, and sediment discharge into the wetland on site,” the complaint states.
DEP believes the only way to stop continued degradation of the site is to cease construction activities.
“Issuance of a temporary injunction in this case is clearly in the public interest,” the motion states. “The construction has the potential to damage valuable wetlands.”
Van Usen said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and doesn’t know anything about violations. He denied any wrongdoing.
This story was corrected to state Anton Van Usen does not own Van Der Valk Construction.