Residents suing developer, home builder over 'sewage nightmare' in far north Bexar County

Lawsuit claims fraud, negligence, deceptive trade practices

By Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter, Josh Saunders - Photojournalist

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas - Loosening the septic pumps behind his home has become a dreaded routine for Villas at Timberwood resident Tom Marty.

But it was the call that summoned him away from church Easter Sunday that has stuck with him the most: the mosquitoes that covered him as he moved a PVC pipe up and down in an effort to unclog his neighbors' excrement on what many people consider the holiest of days.

"In San Antonio we're always praying for rain because we're constantly in drought. Here we pray that it doesn't rain," said Marty, summing up the complaints of a half-dozen homeowners who spoke with the KSAT 12 Defenders for this story.

The neighborhood, located between Stone Oak and Bulverde in far north Bexar County, backs up to a greenbelt and beyond that, Mustang Creek.

But the scenic landscape disguises a septic field and, according to residents, a poorly engineered on-site septic facility.

Ongoing issues with the OSSF prompted homeowners early this year to file a lawsuit in state district court accusing the neighborhood's developer and home builder of fraud, negligence and deceptive trade practices.

The allegations against the Timberwood Development Company and Chesmar Homes are extensive.

Some residents interviewed by the Defenders said they were falsely told years ago that the neighborhood would be serviced by the San Antonio Water System, instead of having an on-site septic system.

Residents instead have been left to manage an OSSF that they claim was supposed to have a 100-foot setback from Mustang Creek but was built closer than that, causing the potential for sewage to run off into the creek.

The lawsuit claims the OSSF was not built in compliance with applicable regulations or permits and that the nearby septic field is the site of frequent flooding.

The Villas at Timberwood Homeowners Association vs. Timberwood Development Company, Chesmar Homes

Additionally, sewage disbursement lines were installed too close together, not deep enough and in some cases on top of one another. The top soil was not maintained properly, causing lines to get brittle and break due to exposure to the sun.  

A large number of trees behind the OSSF, many located just a few feet from standing, black water, are now diseased and dying.

"None of this was disclosed to us and it's very disheartening," said homeowner Don Ohm. "The homeowners are now responsible for caring for a system they should have never had."

25-foot spout of raw sewage

Joshua Gallion and his wife had their home built at the edge of the greenbelt and moved in in August 2013.

Gallion said they planned to raise their daughter in the custom-built home.

Eighteen months after moving in, however, Gallion walked outside and saw a 25-foot spout of raw sewage shooting straight up into the air.

"The spout of water was less than, you know, 50 yards from where we live. That's massively unhealthy," said an emotional Gallion. "Everybody is suffering through this process and it's just straight deceptive practices. Nobody told us as homeowners what we were getting into when we bought a home here."

"Imagine coming home and getting an email saying, 'Please don't flush your toilet today because our pumps are broken.' It's unfathomable," said Gallion.

No professional experience in septic tank servicing

Homeowners, many of whom moved to the Villas at Timberwood after retiring, have been left to run a septic system despite having no professional background in that area.

Marty said that in the summer of 2015, an executive from Chesmar Homes asked him and other homeowners to be patient but acknowledged that the company had no idea what it had gotten into.

"Unfortunately we've had to hire a lawyer to remind Chesmar what they said, and more importantly what they didn't say," said Marty, claiming executives knew the septic system was not operational.

Officials with Chesmar Homes did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story and refused to come out and speak with the Defenders when the news crew stopped by its offices. 

One of the developers named in the lawsuit declined to speak about the suit and referred all questions to his attorney, who has not responded to a request for comment.

The suit asks the defendants to pay the cost of maintaining and repairing the OSSF and that the defendants pay expenses associated with connecting the neighborhood to SAWS.

Two years ago, residents were told the project would cost at least $1.2 million, not including the cost of easements.

A SAWS spokeswoman called the price a "rough estimate," since the homeowners association would be in charge of hiring an engineer, contractor and for paying impact fees.

The suit also asks for the defendants to pay to replace the diseased, dead and dying trees in and around the septic field. Those damages alone are now in excess of $1 million, according to the suit.

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