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Alachua County homeowner continues effort to have his property condemned

A warning reading "KEEP OUT" is posted to a tree near Mark Dake's home, which was the site of repeated flooding during past tropical storms and hurricanes in Alachua County. Ever since, he has sought to keep others from experiencing the same headache: “We need to take care of each other, and that’s what I’m trying to do," he said. (Christopher De Cara/WUFT News)

Mark Dake is among seven homeowners who have applied for grants to have local government acquire their property, tear down any structures and build a retention pond.

On July 7, 2021, Gainesville resident Mark Dake arrived home to find his house flooded with about 3 feet of water.

Dake moved into the home in 2011. According to Dake, there had been a consistent pattern of flooding since 1987. The flooding brought on in 2021 by Tropical Storm Elsa, however, was especially severe.

As Dake stood in his flooded home, surrounded by his soaked and ruined belongings, he heard his ceiling collapse into his back bedroom. He also heard a mirror come crashing down from a wall saturated with water.

“I lost everything,” Dake said.

Dake spent the next two weeks living in a hotel. Though the storm had ended, the flooding only worsened as water continued to pour into his property.

Dake spent the next several years trying to have Alachua County condemn and tear down his house.

The house still stands today, but it’s among a handful of houses across the county whose owners will soon receive county assistance via federal funds to buy out and tear down the structures.

Overall, Dake reports he has spent approximately $70,000 of his own money throughout the ordeal. Some of this was to pay for an attorney. Over $6,000 of it, Dake said, was just for dumpsters, used to haul out Dake’s ruined possessions.

Despite the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money expected to flow into the county soon, Dake will not be compensated for those past expenses.

Dake also had a renowned biologist and two separate engineering firms review the situation on his property. All parties were in agreement; it wasn’t a matter of if the property would flood again, Dake said, but when.

The water inside Dake’s home remained there for 16 days after the tropical storm left the area. The water surrounding the house remained for 30 days. The property was impacted by the flooding for nearly three months.

Since then, Dake has been working with Alachua County to have his home condemned. One of his local government contacts is Lalit Lalwani, a civil and development review engineer for Alachua County.

Lalwani has been working to combat Alachua County’s legacy flooding issues since 2017, when Hurricane Irma caused significant damage in Gainesville.

Multiple properties in Gainesville have experienced frequent flooding like Dake’s—namely, ones in Pine Hill Estates, the Hills of Santa Fe and Robin Lane. Lalwani and others have worked for the past several years to reduce the risk of flooding in these areas.

Lalwani and willing property sellers have also applied for state grants so these properties can be acquisitioned and torn down.

Dake’s home is one of four properties with a grant currently pending. If the grant is approved, the county will buy the property, tear down all of its structures and replace it with a retention pond.

A new wall for flood mitigation stands near the corner of Northwest 98th Street and Northwest 23rd Avenue. Construction for the wall concluded last year. (Christopher De Cara/WUFT News)

Lalwani has also overseen the construction of permanent piping and discharge pumps in some of the affected areas. In the event of a flood, these pumps will automatically begin pumping once a certain water level is reached.

Additionally, a wall was built along the corner of the Northwest 23rd Avenue and Northwest 98th Street in 2023. At nearly 750 feet long, the wall was made to mitigate flooding in the area and prevent water from pouring into citizens’ backyards.

Currently, six other homeowners besides Dake’s have applied for grants. Of those six, only three have been approved and will be continuing forward in the process. Grants from the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will funnel federal funds into the county. The money will be used to acquire the homes and pay the costs of their demolition or for any further work done on the property.

All of the work performed to date to prevent and combat flooding in Alachua County has been financed by local funds. The state and federal funds will eventually be used to finance the acquisition of the properties; none of the homeowners will be personally compensated for past damages inflicted by flooding.

Mark Dake measures the height of the maintenance hole on his property. It is approximately 46 inches in the photo. (Photo courtesy of Mark Dake)

Lalwani said he believes the work done so far to combat flooding in Alachua County has been excellent. Still, he acknowledged how these events can impact people.

“It will certainly disrupt people’s lives and… mental well-being,” Lalwani said.

Meanwhile, the threat of flooding remains a real possibility to people like Dake and his neighbors.

Dake suggested purchasing flood insurance as a worthwhile investment for homeowners. “When the water comes, there is no time,” he said.

Dake has continued to work with Alachua County to have his property condemned and acquisitioned. He said he does not want anyone else to live there, and he does not want anyone else to go through what he did.

“We need to protect each other,” Dake said. “We need to take care of each other, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Christopher is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.