Special Reports

New Wichita rules for slab houses running behind

A spiderweb of cracks spreading across the floor in Betty Wiens s home were discovered after she removed the carpet. Only five to eight years old, many homes in the gated community at 2022 S. Webb Road are revealing multiple structural failures, costing homeowners thousands of dollars in repair costs and making the houses virtually impossible to sell. (Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010.)
A spiderweb of cracks spreading across the floor in Betty Wiens s home were discovered after she removed the carpet. Only five to eight years old, many homes in the gated community at 2022 S. Webb Road are revealing multiple structural failures, costing homeowners thousands of dollars in repair costs and making the houses virtually impossible to sell. (Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010.) The Wichita Eagle

When it became clear a subdivision in southeast Wichita had several new homes cracking apart on unstable soil late last year, city officials pledged to create new laws to ensure houses wouldn't be built on unstable ground again.

Kurt Schroeder, superintendent of the office of central inspection, and City Manager Robert Layton said they wanted a new policy for houses built on slab foundations ready for City Council members to vote on by spring.

They're going to miss that deadline.

But participants still are promising a substantive tightening of the codes to avoid a repeat of the crumbling homes in the Maple Shade subdivision at Harry and Webb.

The result could raise the price of new slab and patio homes across Wichita.

After a series of meetings involving architects, engineers, city inspectors and builders since the start of the year, the task force is still working to assemble a set of recommendations.

Action remains probable this year, officials say, but is unlikely until at least the third quarter.

That doesn't surprise the Maple Shade homeowners. Seven slab houses there sustained significant foundation and structural damage due to being built on unstable soil in areas with poor drainage, officials said.

"As far as the city goes, I can't see that they have done anything they said they were going to do," said Betty Wiens, 75, whose 5-year-old Maple Shade home required almost $80,000 in repairs after its foundation failed, destroying interior walls. She bought it for $142,000 in 2008, when the house was three years old.

"It just makes me feel like I did a year ago, banging my head against a stone wall."

The task force plans to meet again June 1 to review a comprehensive set of recommendations.

Then they'll likely gather input and tweak it before moving the policy to the city's board of code standards and appeals, most likely at their July meeting — unless the task force has universal support on its first examination of the rules.

Don't count on that.

The new standards will likely translate to higher costs and mean more discussion aimed at reducing costs.

The new rules will likely require builders to test the dirt they're about to build homes on, dictate the depths footings should be placed at and suggest standards for how the dirt beneath houses is compacted before construction starts.

The task force product promises to be a comprehensive set of changes to slab construction regulations, said Wess Galyon, president of the Wichita Area Builders Association.

It should include soil testing requirements, Galyon said, and tougher building standards for reinforcing slabs, footings and walls in the houses.

Meanwhile, Maple Shade residents say that some progress has been made on the subdivision's drainage problems, which caused the unstable clay underneath their houses to expand and contract, leading to more cracks in the foundations and walls.

A cement wall has been installed to divert rain running off of adjacent property away from the development.

Wiens and her neighbor Steve Garner say they've reached no agreement with builder Clint Miller on the damage to their homes — about $80,000 for Wiens, whose foundation cracked and split, and about $19,000 for Garner.

Garner also has been fighting the property tax bill for his $150,000 house, getting his valuation lowered to $79,000. However, he said a private appraiser, Advanced Appraisal Service, put the value of his home at $47,000.

Wiens is back home, working on the final touches as she prepares to host an open house, less a celebration than an acknowledgment that she overcame the cracking foundation.

Wiens said she and her neighbors aren't prepared to back off the city and Miller, despite their fading chances of compensation for their houses.

"It seems to me they are just waiting for us to fade away and disappear," she said.

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