Chagrin Falls family files lawsuit against Orange Street condominium developers

By Lindsay Betz, Sun News

Posted May 03, 2011

CHAGRIN FALLS -- A lawsuit has been filed against the developer of the River Walk Townhomes currently being constructed on Orange Street.

The West Cottage Street home of Terry and David Mitchell is sliding down an adjacent hill because of the construction below their property, according to lawyer Tom Merriman, who is representing the Mitchells.

Robert Vitt's Silver Leaf development company has started construction on a condominium development on West Orange Street. The Mitchells' home sits on a crest on top of a hill that slopes down to that development.

“They (the developers) didn’t test to see if they gutted the hillside, what would happen to the properties at the top of the hill,” Merriman said.

The family has been forced to move from their home because it is sliding down the hill and has been deemed unsafe to live in, according to Merriman. They are staying with family and friends.

“The cement foundation in their first floor is completely cracked in half and the back section of the floor has dropped off and is sliding down the hill,” he said, adding that a bedroom has pulled away from the house and the house itself has pulled away from the chimney.

Vitt maintains that the hillside above his development is a separate issue that was not created by his construction. He could not comment further due to the lawsuit, which he had not yet seen on the morning of May 2.

“I am aware of the fact there is a lawsuit, but my attorney has indicated I should not comment further because I haven’t seen it yet,” he said.

Upon hearing The Mitchells’ house was sliding down the hill, the village’s engineer and building inspector were sent out to take a look, according to Village Administrator Ben Himes.

“They inspected it and they found there was certainly evidence the building had experienced some movement over time and some of it appeared to be fairly recent,” he said. “But their opinion was it was unclear whether the development was causing that, or if it was something that would have happened anyway.”

According to Merriman, the Mitchells’ home was inspected last year because they were refinancing the house. The inspection showed no cracks or foundational issues, he said.

A lawsuit against the developers was filed April 28 with the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. It accuses the developers of strict liability, negligence, gross negligence/recklessness, nuisance and infliction of emotional distress.

“The developer had plenty of warning that they were causing problems and failed to take any meaningful action to stop it,” Merriman said. “At this point, the house is destroyed.”

Several residents with properties nearby spoke about this issue at an April 25 Village Council meeting.

Himes said the village’s boards and commissions were concerned from the beginning about how the developers would support that slope.

“The slope retention system that they (the developers) designed has to be able to not only protect their property, but also protect the overall stability of the slope and make sure that it doesn’t make matters any worse for anybody else,” he said.

The developer conducted a geo-technical study on the site and the village hired a geo-technical expert. But the two had a “disagreement over what was satisfactory testing of the site,” Himes said. So an independent third party was hired to review the initial study.

“Out of that came an agreed scope of additional testing,” he said. The additional tests will monitor ground water and slope inclination to determine if there is any slippage in the hillside.

But these tests are “long-term” and have not yet begun because of the rainy weather.

“Once they get all this data, they’ll have the information needed to design a proper retaining system or retaining walls, Himes said.

In the meantime, the village has issued a foundation permit for the easternmost condominium building, which is "on fairly level ground."

Permits for the three westernmost condo buildings will not be issued until the village’s engineer has approved a slope retaining system, according to Himes. Permits could be issued for three proposed additional buildings in between, but official plans have not yet been submitted.

"Chagrin Falls family files lawsuit against Orange Street condominium developers". cleveland.com. Retrieved December 28, 2019.

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