It was in late December of 2015 when Maria Lucas stepped on a wet rug in the basement of her home at 119 Friends Road in Yorktown that she discovered there was a flooding problem on her property.
Nearly two years later, spending approximately $200,000 to date trying to find a solution, Maria and Donald Lucas remain embroiled in a battle with town officials and their next-door neighbors while the flooding continues.
“It’s been a nightmare. We feel like a victim, like prisoners in our home. It’s horrible,” Maria Lucas said. “We’ve been treated like criminals. It’s just appalling.”
The Lucas’ purchased their home in 2013 and a swale, which begins at the top of a slope encompassing seven to eight homes located above the Lucas residence, discharged storm water at the rear of each property. The swale behind the Lucas home ran through the rear of their neighbors, Jakub and Pavlina Pernica, and flowed into a town-owned pipe.
In court papers, Jakub Pernica testified in July 2014 he backfilled the swale behind his home, closing it down, and installed a pipe, which drained water off his property but failed to provide an outlet for the water from any other homes, including the Lucas’, creating a damming effect.
In March 2016, the Lucas’ hired an engineer to try the mitigate the situation, but received a violation from Yorktown’s code enforcement officer for not obtaining a building permit “to install any on-site underground system designed to drain storm water or ground water into the earth.”
Since then, the Lucas’ have applied for a building permit and a storm water drainage permit without success from the town. Meanwhile, Maria Lucas contended the Pernica’s were never cited for the drainage work they did without permits.
“I’ve dealt with hundreds of different towns and walked out with the permit in hours,” said Joe Macellaro, the engineer for the Lucas’. “What’s going on here? Something is not right here.”
In April 2017, Maria Lucas and Macellaro said they met with Supervisor Michael Grace and Town Engineer Michael Quinn. Macellaro said Grace offered a few possible remedies, including approaching Highway Superintendent Dave Paganelli about installing a pipe, but that idea failed since the town is not allowed to do work on private property.
Lucas then claimed Grace offered his services as a private attorney and allegedly said with a $30,000 retainer he could “make this all go away.” She also believes Grace has some sort of personal relationship with the Pernica’s.
“I’m 95% sure there’s some kind of deal between Grace and my neighbors,” Lucas charged. “The town has codes for a reason and they’re not upholding the codes. I obviously think it’s a personal vendetta because we didn’t give him $30,000 for a retainer for his back taxes.”
When asked about Maria Lucas’ claim, Grace said recently, “I wouldn’t know Mr. Panica if I tripped over him,” adding he never offered to represent the Lucas’ as a private attorney.
“We offered to do drainage,” Grace said. “It’s not town property, so I can’t go there.”
On September 13, 2017, Maria and Donald Lucas filed a lawsuit against Quinn seeking $1 million in damages for, in part, “intentionally (refusing) to take the ministerial act of enforcing the provisions of the Town of Yorktown Code which pertain to the Stormwater Code, Engineering Code and the New York State Environmental Control Law.”
Litigation is also pending between the Lucas’ and the Pernica’s, and the state Department of Environmental Protection has gotten involved.
Town Attorney Michael McDermott said the ongoing situation is “a private matter between the Lucas’ and the neighbors that is being litigated between them.”
However, in response to the Quinn lawsuit, McDermott remarked, “The town does not litigate in the newspaper. We litigate in court.”
Meanwhile, Maria Lucas said mold continues to grow in her basement, leaving her family unable to utilize a large portion of their home.
“I didn’t cause the problem. I just want my life back,” she said.