In January, Jeffrey Lee purchased a big new house in Dorchester with visions of lazy summer days spent frolicking on a grassy back lawn with his toddler son.
But it didn’t happen. There was practically no grass.
Turns out the developer left mounds of crushed stone in his backyard. Loam was put over it, and it was seeded in the spring, but grass barely grew, Lee said.
“The whole point of a big backyard, for us, was for my kid to play in it,” said Lee, 39, a physician, as he showed me around. “But now, if he falls, he’s liable to get cut on the stones.”
According to the purchase-and-sale agreement, the developer, Cruz Cos., was obligated to put down four inches of loam and sod and hydro-seed it, which Cruz said was done.
When the Lee family moved in last winter, the loam was already down. Then, in April, a Cruz landscaper showed up unannounced to hydro-seed it, Lee said.
But heavy spring rains had washed away much of the loam before the hydro-seeding, he said.
“It was like a river running out to the street,” Lee said.
After Lee complained about the cruddy condition of the lawn, a Cruz manager, in an e-mail, implied that Lee was at fault for not watering and fertilizing it and attached instructions on “watering a new lawn.”
Lee took me into the garage to show me opened bags of lawn fertilizer, lime, and humic acid he used in an effort to grow grass. He said he watered multiple times a day.
But so little grass grew that he never took out the lawn mower this year.
Finally, a frustrated Lee, convinced that the crushed stone was to blame, grabbed a shovel and began digging.
“I filled a five-gallon bucket with crushed stone in a short time,” he said.
Months earlier, Lee’s next-door neighbor, who had purchased one of the first houses built in the development, told Lee his backyard had been used as a construction staging area, including a pile of crushed stone about 3 or 4 feet high, covering a 10-by-5-foot area. Some of the stone got carted away to other lots in the Harvard Commons development, to be placed under decks and other sites to help with drainage.
But some of the stone stayed. It certainly seems plausible that rather than haul away the remaining crushed stone after it was no longer needed, someone decided to spread it out and bury it, in what would become Lee’s backyard.
Edgar Cerrere, a Cruz senior project manager, told me in a phone conversation that, looking back, “that stone should have been removed.”
Lee paid more than $600,000 for the four-bedroom, 3½-bath house (2,500 square feet of living space, with an attached two-car garage), one of more than 50 single-family houses built on the site of the long-closed Boston State Hospital near Blue Hill Avenue.
“Everything else about the house, we love,” Lee said. “We just feel the outside of the house was neglected.”
Lee looked into hiring a landscaper to redo the lawn, but that would have cost thousands of dollars. Instead, he dogged Cerrere in a series of e-mails, which he shared with me.
At first, Cerrere glossed over the crushed stone problem with a promise to add loam and hydro-seeding. At one point, he didn’t respond until Lee followed up by writing: “I haven’t heard from you. It’s been 8 days.”
When Cerrere responded that “the plan is to take care of your lawn,” that wasn’t good enough for Lee. “Does ‘taking care of our lawn’ include removing the rock?” he asked.
After Lee threatened to take Cruz to court, Cerrere responded by adding that the plan included “raking up crushed stone if we determine that to be problematic.”
Lee was not swayed. “I need you to address the crushed stone,” he said, but Cerrere remained noncommittal, saying he stood by his earlier answer.
Cerrere later told Lee the landscaper was ready, but Lee stood his ground. “I’m not letting anyone do anything until you tell me what the plan is,” he wrote.
Cerrere then was a little more definitive, saying the plan was to “rake up and remove crushed stone.”
Lee told me he wants more than raking; he wants digging.
Lee has already filed complaints with the attorney general’s office and the City of Boston’s consumer affairs office.
At this point, I believe Lee should give Cerrere a chance to fix the lawn. I think he’s got the developer’s attention.