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Unbuilt mansion draws neighbors' ire, Dunedin's attention

DUNEDIN — When the city's only 10-room, 12,000-square-foot mansion began to take shape two years ago, developer Jeff Ricketts said he believed it would serve as a beacon of energy efficiency and smart design.

What do its neighbors think of it now?

"It's a monstrosity," said Lucy Myers, a 45-year resident of the nearby neighborhood. "It's absolutely disgraceful. … People look at it and say, 'What in the world is that?' "

The answer: not much.

The two-story home on President Street and Edgewater Drive that Ricketts had planned for his family was never finished. It sits at the north end of the city's scenic waterfront, a dilapidated concrete shell, with no construction crews in sight.

The unbuilt home was foreclosed upon in July by Century Bank of Sarasota in lieu of an unpaid $5.6 million mortgage, and the property was taken over by bank subsidiary North River Holdings, property records show.

The site's future became even more uncertain when the bank itself failed in November, its assets and deposits shifting to Louisiana-based Iberiabank.

"Only relatively recently has Iberia thought of what to do with this property," said City Manager Rob DiSpirito. "For a while, we were in limbo on who owns this thing."

The city has begun negotiating with the site's bank-hired broker to buy the site, though officials won't share offer amounts for either side. Neither Ricketts nor a bank representative returned calls this week.

If the city did buy it, DiSpirito said, the property could be used for much-needed stormwater drainage or water quality improvement on the shore of St. Joseph Sound.

Though officials in talks have reminded the property holder of its "fiscal responsibility" to keep the site in code, DiSpirito said, the city's purchase is still a big if.

"This is nothing we have funds for," he said. "We try to be creative."

Residents hope pressure from the property's neighbors on President Street and near downtown Dunedin may affect the city's decision. Fliers urging the City Commission to buy and open the waterfront have begun to circulate in the neighborhood, similar to how residents protested four years ago about the grand-scale Fenway project, which some thought a bit too grand, that was also slated for the waterfront.

"It is an eyesore," said Carl Sigvartsen, who owns property nearby. Neighbors said they have seen "vagrants and vandals" squatting in the unfinished mansion, near where construction scraps sat and weeds overgrew. "It doesn't look like a house; it looks more like a barracks," he said.

Marti Royo, a nearby property owner and member of the Friends of Edgewater group, said some residents have suggested that parking or an extension for the coastline park when the home is demolished would be a good fit. Others said anything would be an improvement.

"That's the first thing you see when you go into Dunedin," Sigvartsen said. "If you took that down, that would be worth the money."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

Unbuilt mansion draws neighbors' ire, Dunedin's attention 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 7:50pm]
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