Residents of Lake View Villas in Agoura Hills say their town-house project is not living up to its name.
There's a lake, to be sure. But these days the water is hidden beneath the hillside condominiums--not shimmering gracefully in a concrete-lined lake bed that winds through the 67-home development.
The underground lake has caused cracks in buildings, ripped sidewalks apart and led to the collapse of a steep hillside at the front door of dozens of town houses.
On Monday, the 2-year-old project was awash in controversy.
Agoura Hills officials said they have ordered a halt to a planned auction of unsold Lake View Villas units by the developer. But the developer said the sale will be held as scheduled.
'Major Problems' Listed
The dispute has been brewing since last fall. That's when new Lake View Villas homeowners compiled a list of "major problems" with their property.
There seemed to be something wrong with the design and depth of the centerpiece lake, residents informed Maler Dinow Developers, the project's builder. There also seemed to be plenty of seepage around the development--possibly from a leaky main water pipe, homeowners speculated.
By the end of the year, a Los Angeles County building and safety inspector working for Agoura Hills had detected earth slippage. So had a private landscape architect who was brought in to study the problem for homeowners.
The architect fingered underground water intrusion as the cause, pointing to the artificial centerpiece lake as a possible culprit. After that, the 100-yard-long lake was drained and checked for leaks.
At 10 p.m. one night in February, the hillside going downward from the development collapsed "with a rumble," according to homeowner Henry Schaub. Neighbor Steve Davis said he peered over the edge of his front sidewalk and was surprised to see plastic pipes exposed in the oozing mud.
Since then, there has been a flood of theories as to the source of the underground lake.
Plastic pipes have been blamed, as have a rising water table in the area, the project's main water line, faulty rain gutters and leaky underground irrigation lines.
Bill Bush, president of the homeowners association, urged the city to prohibit the developers from being "released from their final obligations to this project" until the mystery is solved and residents "receive satisfaction to our complaints of our many problems."
When Templeland Ltd., partner with Maler Dinow in the project, announced that an auction would be staged to sell the tract's last 17 units, city Planning Director Paul Williams ordered a halt to the sale.
On Monday, however, a spokeswoman for the real estate firm planning the auction said the sale will be held Aug. 3 as planned, with minimum bids set at $60,000 to $75,000, depending on the units.
Maler Dinow marketing officer Bobby Kleiman said the troubles have been traced to lawn sprinkler problems, improper drain hookups and leaks in plastic pipes--all of which can easily be fixed, he said. The artificial lake is not leaking, he said.
But Williams said the auction ban is still in effect.
"We will rely on the city attorney to stop the sale until repairs are made, or at least funded," Williams said. Such repairs could involve construction of an automated underground drainage system, he said.
"We think their lake up there is leaking, yes. But it didn't cause the slope to slump," he said, explaining that test holes dug well above the lake "filled up with water faster then they could dig them."
Homeowners said the only thing they want to see filled with water now is their emptied lake.
"When it was full of water, it was just fantastic," resident Jerry Rosenzweig said.