DUNEDIN — That unfinished shell of a mansion on Dunedin's waterfront is up for discussion at tonight's City Commission meeting.
City leaders will debate whether to assume authority over new construction plans for 570 Edgewater Drive — as the public wants — or to leave the task up to the city's building official.
Originally intended as a developer's dream mansion, construction stopped after a bank foreclosed on the property in 2009.
That has resulted in picketing and City Hall speeches by neighbors, who called the building an "eyesore" and said they wanted the city to buy and raze it to make way for waterfront parking, stormwater drainage or a "normal-sized" home that fits the neighborhood's character. Residents began raising funds to help pay for its destruction.
City officials, however, said they couldn't afford to purchase the property and feared the legal ramifications of getting involved.
In March, Volker Raabe, reportedly a German attorney whose son lives in the area, bought the 12,000-square-foot structure from Iberia Bank for $850,000, with plans to complete construction.
Under city rules, the city staff has authority to approve new construction or renovations on single-family homes.
However, after an outcry over the original plans for the Edgewater Drive mansion, city officials added a provision that allows commissioners instigate a "call-up" and decide whether to approve or deny permits for single-family home projects that might impact the view of St. Joseph's Sound or affect a structure with historic significance.
Following an unnamed commissioner's inquiry, the City Commission will discuss tonight whether to use that procedure for the first time since it was adopted.
"Any three members of the City Commission may vote (tonight) to call up the project and become the decision-making authority," states a staff report attached to the meeting agenda. "If this happens, the building permit application will be put on hold and the owner and/or owner's representatives will be required to start the design review process."
Preliminary plans submitted to the city show Raabe intends to slightly modify the 2006 design envisioned by original developer Jeff Ricketts, who had proposed a 12-bedroom, 111/2-bath, solar-powered home.
If approved as is, Raabe's home would feature a front circular driveway, an elevator, and two ground-floor garages and storage space. The two floors above it would feature at least five bedrooms and baths; living, family, media, and game rooms; and several balconies. Architectural renderings show a railing encircling the roof.
Aside from concerns about the building's height, driveway's size and proposed tree removal, the report stated, city staffers see no problem with the permit request.
"For the record, and should the authors of the new LDC (land development code) be deposed at some future date, the intent of the call-up procedure was to use this tool during the design phase of new construction," the report says. "The procedure was never intended to be used on a partially built structure."
City Attorney Tom Trask in the past has advised against getting involved for fear the city will be sued. In a memo to commissioners last week, he again advised against calling up the project or ordering the building to be redesigned or demolished. Doing so without evidence of a code violation or non-compliance with zoning laws, he said, could result in legal action or reimbursement expenses topping $1 million.
Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, who pushed for the city to adopt the "call-up" procedure following the outcry six years ago, called 570 Edgewater "the poster child" for the new code.
He said residents have been frustrated by city leaders' hesitation to discuss anything at all about the home, including the call-up procedure, during past commission meetings. He said citizens are simply asking for a chance to offer input on the process.
"There nothing wrong with holding a public hearing. There's no legal jeopardy attached to that," he said. "Even if (residents) disagree with the end result, at least if you had your opportunity to have your say, you can't say this was an inside deal."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.