CARROLLWOOD — At nearly 25,000 square feet, the partly built mansion on Lake Ellen was meant to be someone's dream home.
Instead, its rusting skeleton is Simon Canasi's nightmare.
"I call it Chernobyl," said Canasi, 52, a Smith Barney financial adviser who lives behind the unfinished hulk. "I got a back yard full of monkey bars. ... It's disgusting."
The construction site, at the end of Lake Ellen Lane in the Lakeside Terrace subdivision, once was home to the state headquarters of the Salvation Army.
But in 2004, the charity sold the property for $3.1 million to a company led by the son of entrepreneur Pradip C. Patel.
After emigrating from India in 1973, Patel bought a motel near Busch Gardens. But he made his fortune with his brother, Dr. Kiran Patel, by co-founding the WellCare HMO and building it into a billion-dollar business.
Soros Private Equity Group bought WellCare in 2002 for more than $200 million, according to a Web site for Naidip Capital, a real estate investment business that Pradip Patel now runs.
A construction permit that Patel pulled in 2005 describes a two-story showplace with five bedrooms and 41/2 baths. Plans called for a home theater, grand hall, library, temple, spa and elevator. The plans also indicated the house was being built for Patel, 57, and his wife, Naini.
Patel wants to complete the project, but the recession has hampered his efforts, said Sam Aref, whose company is working on site plans for the project and the site cleanup.
Canasi complains loudly about the house, Aref said, but other neighbors do not.
Patel is looking to downsize the mansion, on which he has already spent at least $1.5 million, Aref said.
"Why would anybody give that up?" Aref said. "Ultimately, he wants to finish it, but with the bad times that we're going through, you tell me, how can he finish it?"
At this point, the site is home to a large frame of steel girders and a half-dozen concrete columns. The white plastic pipes for the home's plumbing stick up like stalks of corn. Construction on the house stopped two years ago, Canasi said.
Patel's Lake Ellen home had an active construction permit until April 2008, Hillsborough County officials say. After the permit expired, they said the problem was not brought to their attention until this spring, when they heard from Canasi.
After that, county officials considered tearing the thing down themselves.
"We've looked at it from every possible angle," county code enforcement director Dexter Barge told county commissioners last month. But, he said, "we don't have that legal authority at this time to go in and actually demolish the structure."
Commissioners told their attorneys to send Patel a letter demanding that he clean up the property.
"This is a detriment to that community," Commissioner Jim Norman said.
Code enforcement inspectors have cited Patel's company for accumulations of debris, not having a construction permit and allowing the property to become a public nuisance.
The Code Enforcement Board is scheduled to consider the matter on June 12. The board can levy fines of $1 to $1,000 for each day that the violations continue.
In response, Aref agreed to have the property cleaned up and volunteered to use concrete blocks already on the property to build a wall shielding neighbors' view.
The wall is one of the conditions the county required when it rezoned the land for the project, said Jim Blinck, the county's manager for code enforcement operations. The wall is not part of the code enforcement case, but Blinck said inspectors are requiring that the concrete blocks be removed.
On Wednesday, Aref met with Blinck and two other code enforcement officials on the property, where workers have hauled off debris, repaired a boat dock and cut down vegetation.
"It looks much, much better than it did," Blinck told Aref. Still, he said the property owner needs to cut down overgrown bushes directly behind Canasi's property, take care of the piles of blocks, fix a few more things at the dock — and finish the house.
Blinck said he would likely recommend that the Code Enforcement Board require that construction of the wall begin and the overgrown plants be cut down within 30 days.
"If, in fact, there is a wall that's coming up, I welcome that wall just as long as he makes my side pretty," Canasi said.
Canasi isn't alone in feeling like the project has left him hanging.
Rairigh Construction Management filed a $338,659 lien against the property in February. The company said it had not been paid for acting as the project's general contractor.
Ray Rairigh said he never got a clear explanation why the project was shut down.
"We haven't been involved in quite some time," he said. "We are as clueless as anyone else."