Southridge Hills, a 127-acre housing development in southeast Arlington, Texas, features 10 floor plans, prices ranging from $108,000 to $135,000, and a nearby golf course and lake. But Southridge Hills, built by KB Home, is not your typical residential project.
The housing development site was formerly home to a U.S. Naval Air Station bombing range, and the decades-old legacy of its military use has resurfaced in the form of controversy, lawsuits and a large-scale cleanup project.
While one KB Home Web site promotes “spacious floor plans” and “easy access to highways,” a separate KB Home Web site describes ongoing cleanup efforts at the site. Information at that site states, “KB Home continues to strongly believe that this property is appropriate for community living,” but also cautions, “Southridge residents who find what they think is ordnance should simply leave it alone and call 911.”
The development area was once known as Five Points Field Outlying Field, a training ground for military pilots during the 1940s that included a practice bombing range. KB, after meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers in 1998, acquired the property and began to build and sell homes at the site in 2000. In addition to building homes in Texas, KB home also has operations in California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
The Southridge Hills development area is nearly fully built, with the last homes scheduled for completion before the year is out. KB Home is the largest builder in Texas in terms of the number of units built, and Southridge Hills “has been one of our highest selling communities all the way through,” said David Christian, president of the Fort Worth division for KB Home.
“There are a lot of happy homeowners,” Christian added. “(Homes) continue to sell at a fast pace.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is carrying out a cleanup operation throughout the development area. Dwayne Ford, manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Formerly Used Defense Sites program, said this week that crews toting high-tech metal detectors are scanning the Southridge Hills development area in search of buried metal objects, and excavation of suspected bombs is expected to begin in August.
“They’re covering the entire site with geophysics instruments. They will take that (data) to the office and run that with some processing to try to weed out roofing nails and pieces of barbed wire. They will focus on excavating items that we think are potentially ordnance items,” Ford said. The excavation process will be decidedly low-tech, with crews digging up suspected ordnance by hand, he added.
The scope of the $1 million cleanup is expected to be limited to those areas at the site that are not covered by driveways, roads and foundations, and to those areas where residents allow access to their private property. “Ordnance, unlike environmental contaminants, require some type of human interaction before they’re a problem,” Ford said. Mark 23 practice bombs, which weigh about 3 pounds, are 8 inches long and carry a small explosive charge to aid pilots in spotting where the bombs landed, are possibly present at the site, based on “records and anecdotal evidence,” he added.
Unexploded bombs that may be present at the site could have the potential to injure or kill people, according to Army Corps of Engineers reports.
In 1983, during the construction of a 35-acre mobile home park at the former Five Points site, work was halted when a practice bomb was discovered there. A cleanup on that site followed, and an estimated 3,000 practice bombs were recovered from that portion of the site.
During a workshop in 2002, a KB Home representative “stated that his subcontractors had found 26 (Mark 23) practice bombs,” and “an attorney representing approximately 80 homeowners in Southridge Hills stated that he had nine (Mark 23) practice bombs in his possession,” according to an Army Corps of Engineers report. Other bombs types were reportedly dropped at the site include the 100-pound M38A2 practice bomb and practice versions of the M47 chemical bomb.
A group of about 190 current and former residents of Southridge Hills are parties to a lawsuit against KB Home, as well as a land development company and an environmental consulting company that also were involved in the project. The lawsuit charges that there was inadequate disclosure about the development site’s former use as a bombing rang. A hearing is scheduled in a Texas court next month.
Marcel W. Weiner, the lead lawyer in this civil lawsuit, filed in 2001, said this week that he now possesses about a dozen practice bombs recovered from the development area, and he plans to use them as evidence in the lawsuit. Weiner represents about 81 families and 140 individuals, he said, and other homeowners have joined the case represented by other lawyers, for a total of about 190 individuals and about 150 families. Some residents want money back and they want the builder to buy their homes back and to pay their legal fees, he said, and some homeowners are seeking damages for the diminished value of their homes.
One homeowner, Thea King-Lewis, who is named as a plaintiff in that lawsuit, was also involved in a separate lawsuit against KB Home that related to construction problems with her Southridge Hills home. King-Lewis’ separate lawsuit has been resolved and her home has reportedly been bought back. A KB Home spokesman said the buy-back was not related to the homeowners’ disclosure lawsuit.
According to court documents, King-Lewis stated in a sworn affidavit that she was approached in 2002 by Victor Toledo, a KB Home representative who allegedly “did attempt to coerce, bribe, induce, manipulate and persuade me to sign…false affidavits.” She also reported that Toledo “was unquestionably clear in his attempts to harass and force my family and me into submission by the offer of financial compensation as an inducement, in exchange for my signature on a false affidavit, which would be used to give witness against Janet Ahmad in his pursuit of future criminal actions against her.”
Ahmad, the leader of a home buyers’ advocacy group, HomeOwners for Better Building, is also entangled in the legal morass relating to Southridge Hills and homeowner complaints against KB Home. Ahmad was investigated by a grand jury and was indicted for allegedly fabricating the discovery of a bomb at the housing site, but in late May the Tarrant County district attorney’s office cleared Ahmad of all charges.
Ahmad said this week that KB had “been doing a lot of creative writing…they are between Disney and Hollywood with the creative writing,” she said. In any case, the charges have “been dropped and I’m so thankful for that,” she said.
King-Lewis said, “I’m very happy for her. That’s all I can say.”
Mark Daniel, a lawyer representing Ahmad, said in a statement, “It is regrettable that KB Home sought to bring a baseless criminal prosecution in an effort to gain leverage and silence her efforts. I respect the district attorney for acknowledging that this matter did not constitute criminal activity.”
Christian of KB Home said that a grand jury, not KB Home, “found a reason to indict Ms. Ahmad.” KB Home, though, has filed a $20 million civil lawsuit against Ahmad and others, alleging defamation and trade disparagement, and that lawsuit has not yet reached trial. That lawsuit relates to a protest waged by homeowners and others near a KB Home sales center.
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