By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Today’s post is an update to a story IAC has been following since 2016.
In 2009, during installation of a drainage system, the Grand Manor Condominium Association discovered contaminated soil surrounding their housing complex. That prompted three years of investigation. The City of Lowell delayed responding at first, then they tried to clean up the hazardous soil.
But, in 2012, the condo association learned that a complete cleanup of the site would not be possible. So Grand Manor Condo Association sued the City of Lowell.
In a 2016 trial court, the City argued that it was not liable for the loss of property values at Grand Manor.
The City admitted it approved construction on the condominium over a former landfill. But the City’s attorney argues that a 3-year statute of limitations had run out by the time the condo association filed its lawsuit against Lowell.
A jury agreed with the City, and the condo association ended up with no money to reimburse them for their loss in property value.
Condo association appeals
Not satisfied with the lower court ruling, Grand Manor Condo Association appealed.
The association’s attorney explained that, between 2009 and 2012, condo owners had been assured that City would remove toxic soil and eliminate hazardous contaminants.
However, the City’s attempt at remediation (the effort to decontaminate the site of Grand Manor) was inadequate.
The city also admitted that, at $11 million, the cleanup would be cost-prohibitive. So condo owners did not recognize until 2012, that the City had been feeding them false hopes for three years.
Therefore, the statute of limitations clock didn’t start running until 2012.
Supreme Court rules in favor of Grand Manor, sends case back to a jury trial
Ultimately, in January of 2018, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) agreed with Grand Manor. It threw out the 2016 jury verdict in favor of the City of Lowell, and returned the matter back to a trial court.
As reported in the Lowell Sun, following the SJC’s ruling earlier this year, a Massachusetts jury awarded more than $2 million in damages to current and former owners of units at Grand Manor.
The jury’s award is $1.4 million, plus 12% interest compounded over 5 years.
Although appraisal experts estimate that each condo unit lost about $79,000 in value due to environmental contamination, homeowners will recover substantially less than their total loss.
The Lowell Sun reports that 24 current owners will receive $43,361 each, and 12 former owners will receive $31, 573 each.
The City has the right to appeal the verdict. However, another appeal may simply delay the inevitable. If the City appeals, taxpayers could be on the hook for an even larger award, plus additional interest and legal fees.
Although Lowell’s current Mayor and Council did not make the decision to permit construction of Grand Manor in 1985, the City is ultimately responsible for the decisions of the Mayor and Council at the time.
Hopefully, City Councils and Mayors across Massachusetts and the U.S. will learn a valuable lesson. It’s never good policy to sacrifice the safety of future residents by building homes on top of a former garbage dump.
Condos built atop former city dump leaves Lowell on the hook for $1.5 mill
By Rick Sobey, firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATED: 10/01/2018 12:39:04 PM EDT
LOWELL — The owners of condominiums built on the contaminated site of a former city dump on Willard Street are poised to collectively receive more than $1.4 million from the city.
A Lowell Superior Court jury ruled that the city is responsible for $1,419,550 in environmental damages for the 36 current and former owners of the Grand Manor Condominium Association.
In addition to these damages, the owners are also set to receive substantial interest — 12 percent of the $1.4 million, which is $170,346, multiplied by five years for the lawsuit duration. That’s estimated at $851,730 in total interest.
Between the environmental damages and interest, the city could have a hefty legal bill soon in excess of $2 million, pending an appeal.