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Spotlight Report   LUXURY BY DESIGN,

Toll Brothers skirted environmental rules

By Matt Carroll and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 4/30/01

everal times in Canton, Toll Brothers violated permit requirements and wetlands protection laws, running up nearly $90,000 in fines over a three-year period.

    Toll home in Canton
Toll Brothers was fined $38,750 for altering 2,275 feet of the buffer zone and 160 feet of the wetland in this 44-home development in Canton. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)


* Home buyers cite broken promises
* Toll's customer service challenged
* Toll Brothers skirted environmental rules
* To lure buyers, builder spares no expense on lavish model

* Land dispute takes its toll on Conn. couple
* After the sale, frustration and disappointment for many (4 stories)

* Day 1 | Day 3 | Day 4


A composite of problems An examination of three homes under construction at Toll Brothers’ Hopkinton Highlands subdivision revealed several building code, energy efficiency, and safety violations.
* A composite of problems


WBZ-TV reporter Ron Sanders and photographer Tom Rehkamp joined in the Globe investigation. Watch their reports on RealVideo.

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In one subdivision in Pennsylvania, the company allegedly ignored flooding problems, covered up mistakes, and illegally tried to fix the problems, according to court documents.

And in Florida, the company level-cut environmentally sensitive land for a luxury development it named, ironically, ''The Preserve.''

In several communities, Toll Brothers has ignored or paid little attention to the environment and local environmental regulations in its rush to build new homes and maximize profits, according to local officials and court documents. In a lawsuit filed by Schuylkill Township, Pa., the town said Toll flouted environmental rules ''all for the purpose of enhancing their profits.''

''Basically, they appeared to be out of control,'' said Bob Murphy, agent for the Canton Conservation Commission. ''Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and they didn't seem to care.''

Toll was fined $38,750 for altering 2,275 feet of the buffer zone and 160 feet of the wetland in the 44-home Canton Woods development, which was finished in 1998.

The company also was fined numerous times in Canton for failing to obtain permits for design changes, such as adding a room. The changes were particularly sensitive because the development borders a wetland and even relatively minor revisions could have meant construction spilling over into the buffer or no-build zones.

After accumulating about $90,000 in fines, Toll later renegotiated the amount and settled on a $40,000 ''in-lieu-of-fine'' donation to a Conservation Commission fund, according to town officials.

In a written response to questions from the Globe, Toll Brothers blamed the violations on unnamed subcontractors who ''inadvertently performed some grading and clearing work in wetland areas on various lots,'' adding that the matter was settled ''amicably'' through the settlement.

In Schuylkill Township, Toll Brothers was sued by the town because of flooding problems in its Valley Forge subdivision, caused partly by what the town said were deliberate attempts to circumvent agreements and laws.

For example, the company was supposed to build a 240,000-gallon retention pond to hold storm runoff, but made it 25 percent smaller, ''for the purpose of enhancing their profits,'' according to the suit.

Town officials became suspicious about the pond's size when it overflowed during routine rainstorms and local homes were flooded. Company officials deliberately concealed its true size and then tried to fix it illegally, according to allegations in court documents. ''With every major storm, mud was going down to the neighbors,'' said Norman Vutz, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

The town claimed that the company also built homes that were one-third larger than the original developer had planned, but did not increase drainage facilities. Larger houses meant less ground to absorb water, so there was more runoff. After battling in the local newspapers and courts for months in the late 1990s, the town and Toll Brothers have resolved almost all the issues.

In Boca Raton, Fla., Toll initially denied it had done anything wrong in clear-cutting the land for The Preserve, a 104-home subdivision, but later agreed to do extensive open space restoration after neighbors and city officials complained. The company also paid about $10,000 in fines, according to city officials.

As a result of the city's experience with Toll, environmental regulations were adopted, which instituted stiffer penalties and a requirement that developers hire inspectors to make sure environmentally sensitive land is protected.

Toll Brothers declined to answer questions about its activities in Schuylkill Township and Boca Raton.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/30/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.