The developer behind several Del Dios-area homes recently evacuated due to the earth beneath them sinking, told NBC 7 on Friday that an investigation into the matter is underway.
“Rancho Cielo Estates (RCE) does not have any comment to provide at this time,” said Peter Fagrell, president of Rancho Cielo Estates, Ltd., in an email statement. “We are aware of the situation, and investigations are presently underway to determine the extent of the problem and the source of the issue. Until such investigations are completed, RCE does not have a statement or position on this matter.”
Recently, three homes in the upscale Cielo development near Rancho Santa Fe were evacuated after the earth beneath them began to move. The homes, built by Taylor Morrison, stand on steep hills high above Lake Hodges and – as the development’s Spanish-influenced name suggests – offer magnificent views of the skies.
In the 18000 block of Avenida Apice, residents were evacuated from their homes due to cracked sidewalks and pavement near their properties. Many said the cracks showed up in the past two weeks. The properties – built just 18 months ago – are worth millions of dollars.
San Diego geologist Dr. Pat Abbott said the shifting of the earth beneath the homes may be due to “an arcuate failure or pull away service where this mass of earth is being pulled by gravity down slope.
Abbott said that although these kinds of slides are slow-moving, they can still be dangerous and, ultimately, destroy homes.
"If it cracks a natural gas line, you can asphyxiate,” Abbott said.
Rancho Santa Fe fire inspectors examined the damage to the three homes in the Cielo development and homeowners were told to move out.
Abbott said the hills on which the homes stand are, in his words, “equilibrium situations.”
“Gravity is trying to pull them down all the time; that equilibrium can be upset by that development of just by heavy rains like we've had,” he explained.
While Rancho Cielo Estates, Ltd., said an investigation has been launched, the cause of the sinking has not yet been identified.
Earlier this week, San Diego County Works Department spokesman Mike Workman said county crews would be inspecting the properties for damage.
On Tuesday, county inspectors posted "Restricted Use" notices on three homes in the development.
Residents were allowed to enter and exit the homes, but are not allowed to live there until the "Restricted Use" is lifted. In order for this to happen, Workman said the county requires permits and inspections for remediation improvements conducted by the builder.
The builder, Taylor Morrison, told NBC 7 the problem with the homes is not a builder issue, but rather an issue stemming from the master plan designed by Rancho Cielo Estates.
Taylor Morrison released this statement:
"Taylor Morrison recently discovered soils movement on three specific homesites located on Avenida Apice in our Estancia at Cielo community. The Taylor Morrison homesites in Estancia at Cielo were purchased from Rancho Cielo Estates, the masterplan developer, and form part of a larger masterplan community, Cielo Rancho Santa Fe. As soon as we determined that the soils movement at the homesites could pose a safety issue, we took steps to provide the affected homeowners with relocation assistance and we notified the local Homeowners Association. Together with our outside experts, we are continuing to actively investigate the causes and scope of the issue and currently believe that the condition of the affected homes is not related to any element of their construction."
Taylor Morrison said its company bought finished homesites directly from Rancho Cielo Estates. As the masterplan developer, Taylor Morrison said Rancho Cielo Estates is "responsible for designing, preparing and finishing the sites for ultimate construction. This includes the masterplan developer, Rancho Cielo Estates, obtaining county approval for the site prior to sale, upon which ultimate purchasers, such as Taylor Morrison, would have relied."