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Owners say home on National Register damaged by Pinellas project

ST. PETERSBURG — A veteran research scientist and his wife say a Pinellas County bridge and culvert replacement project is wrecking their historic mansion.

Their catalog of damages blamed on the vibrations and pounding of pile-driving equipment near their Park Street property is extensive.

On hands and knees, Pat Rossignol lifted the corner of a large area rug to expose floorboards that no longer fit snugly. She pointed to cracks marring glass tiles above a fireplace in the art deco suite where movie star Gloria Swanson is said to have slept. She showed cracks creeping along columns that support the glass ceiling of the two-story rotunda that is the home's grand entrance. Flashlight in hand, Rossignol drew attention to kitchen and pantry cabinets pulling away from wall tiles. In the library, flecks of debris lay on the shelves of a built-in, glass-enclosed display case. All of it, she said, had been caused by the $1.3 million Penny for Pinellas project outside her waterfront home.

"Every day I'm seeing something different," she said of the home on which she and her husband, Dr. Jean-Francois Rossignol, have spent large sums restoring to its 1930s grandeur.

"It's like wiping history out."

Designed by Addison Mizner — famous for his Palm Beach mansions — Casa Coe da Sol, as the home is known, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rossignol said complaints to Pinellas County and the Tampa firm hired to replace the bridge on Park Street between Fifth and Ninth avenues N, and a box culvert, have fallen on deaf ears.

"It's exhausting. I keep calling people, calling people, asking for help," she said.

The Rossignols have hired a lawyer. Contractor Cone & Graham said it would not comment. Citing "pending or anticipated" legal action, Pinellas County also is not talking.

The saga, though, unfolds in emails that show the county placing full responsibility on the Tampa firm, as dictated by its contract.

The trail of correspondence begins with an Aug. 21 email sent by Rossignol to the county's department of environment and infrastructure complaining about damage to her home, at 510 Park St. N in the Jungle area.

"The foundation, which has been strong and without cracks, is now shifting and cracking," she wrote.

Brian Mowry, a project coordinator with the department, contested her claims of "severe vibrations and pounding."

"Although no seismic monitoring has occurred to date, I have been on site during steel sheet piling installation. Vibration is minimal …" he said in an email to colleagues, noting that no complaints had come from nearby Admiral Farragut Academy.

But Rossignol said she can't forget Aug. 3. "It was a Saturday and my husband and I just happened to both be home," she said. "They were driving the pilings like there was no tomorrow and that's when my husband said, 'Pat, this house is not going to make it.' "

The county asked Cone & Graham to handle the couple's concerns.

"It is our intent to refer this matter to our insurance carrier," Heath Noss of Cone & Graham said; an email was sent to Rossignol telling her that a claims representative would be in touch. Late last week, Rossignol said that had not yet happened.

The emails continued, with Gregory D'Amario in the county's risk management department telling colleagues that Rossignol's attorney indicated that he might file an injunction to stop the project.

A meeting was arranged at the site, but D'Amario warned that the risk management department had no authority in the matter.

"I will be there just to demonstrate that a citizen's concerns are not being ignored and so I know what is going on. This remains primarily Cone and Graham's situation to handle," he wrote.

Senior assistant county attorney John A. Powell Jr. concurred, cautioning county staff "to keep silent and strictly observe. ... I do not want any county employee espousing any position with regard to any claim asserted or resolution proposed. We are strictly observers. … this is Cone and Graham's situation."

The meeting was to take place Aug. 27, but the day before, the Rossignols' attorney sent a letter saying his clients intended to file an injunction to halt construction and make a claim for damages. The letter said there were "50 separate instances of serious damage" at the historic home.

Representatives from Cone & Graham, as well as an engineer hired by the Rossignols and their attorney, met at the Park Street home Oct. 3. The contractor took pictures of the damage, Rossignol said, and "gave us no answers."

The couple had been enchanted by Mizner mansions in Palm Beach when they came upon Casa Coe da Sol — House of the Setting Sun — in St. Petersburg. They bought it in December 1997, paying $2.1 million for the property on Boca Ciega Bay. Rossignol said her French-born husband, chairman and chief science officer of Romark Laboratories in Tampa and credited with the development of three major antiparasitic drugs, stopped telling her how much restoration of the 1931 house cost when it reached $1.5 million.

"Every single thing in this house is back to the original," she said. "We felt that was what we were supposed to do."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Times staff writer Mary Jane Park contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Owners say home on National Register damaged by Pinellas project 10/11/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 11, 2013 3:39pm]
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