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Skirmish erupts over home's completion

Frank Cali looks at the photo of his unfinished custom house, the one taken last November at Heritage Harbor, and thinks he and his wife should be living there now.

Instead, the Calis remain cooped up in a small apartment in Citrus Park waiting for work on their 3,800-square-foot waterfront home to be completed.

They are engaged in an increasingly tense situation with U.S. Homes over the construction of the handicapped-accessible house. Construction has lasted either too long or been right on schedule depending on who is talking.

They believe U.S. Homes has had plenty of time to finish a project that make life easier for Belinda Cali, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. The building plans have been in the company's hands since April 2001, they said.

But the company's Central Florida division president, Gene Lanton, rejected the Calis' accusations of incompetency and possible discrimination. Work is on schedule, he said.

Tom Herman, the division's vice president of construction, would not allow a St. Petersburg Times reporter to interview the Calis inside the house.

"It's only been under construction 10 months," Lanton said. "It's a very large home. Therefore 10 to 11 months is what could be expected for a home of this size."

He predicted the house would be ready by the end of this month. With the amount of work that remains, the Calis are doubtful.

"All I want to know is why it is taking so long?" said Belinda Cali, who struggles to cook, clean and use the bathroom in their apartment. "They have $45,000 of our (down payment) money."

The Calis _ Frank is a financial consultant and Belinda is a businesswoman _ came to Citrus Park 16 months ago from New York City. She wanted a house and to be closer to her parents, who live in Apollo Beach. She sold her electronic prepress company in Manhattan, the proceeds of which are going to build the $500,000 house. That doesn't include some high-tech gadgetry that will allow her to run the electronics from a hand-held remote.

They moved into Lake Chase apartments, anticipating a short-term stay. However, their plan quickly fizzled from complications.

Some of them involved specialty contracts.

For example, the Calis decided in February to install $29,000 in cabinetry that had movable countertops to accommodate the two of them. After choosing one vendor, however, they say U.S. Homes insisted on using another company. That company originally would not include the movable parts in the contract.

The cabinets are in, but Frank Cali said they still don't work properly.

Another conflict arose over tiling. Once again, the Calis wanted to use an outside vendor for the $50,000 contract. They bought $25,000 worth of tile and discussed having U.S. Homes finish the work.

But the U.S. Homes estimate included a 25 percent markup not just on the remaining work but on the entire $50,000, the Calis said. They were furious.

Although they wanted the limestone tile installed before closing on the house, they now are going to wait, they said.

Lanton said the disagreements are simply a matter of U.S. Homes insisting on using authorized vendors. He also said he knew nothing about the proposed markup on the tiling, although the Calis say Lanton received copies of e-mails about the contracts.

"We cannot used unlicensed and uninsured vendors in this industry," Lanton said.

The Calis look around them and see homes that have sprouted up while their site barely made progress. The two-year completion deadline comes up in late-December. At that point they can file for breach of contract if the house isn't finished.

"Everybody says, "You'll love the community,"' Frank Cali said. "It's just getting these people out of the way."