By MIKE BRASSFIELD
Times Staff Writer
DUNEDIN - Neighbors call it an eyesore, a monstrosity, an abomination. It's a huge, unfinished concrete shell of a home that has been vacant for years, sitting on prime waterfront property at a key entrance to Dunedin.
It was originally going to be a developer's 12,000-square-foot dream mansion, but construction stopped when a bank foreclosed on it in 2009.
Residents of the surrounding neighborhood have wanted the city to buy the unsightly structure and knock it down. Now word is getting out that a wealthy buyer may be poised to purchase the house at 570 Edgewater Drive and finish its construction.
This has mobilized the neighbors to step up their campaign to get Dunedin to acquire the property and turn it into a parking lot at the north end of a linear park along Edgewater Drive's waterfront. They say other potential uses for the half-acre site include a stormwater retention pond, a fishing pier or a kayak launch.
"This park is really just accessible to those of us who live right here. The nearest parking is at the (Dunedin) marina, a third of a mile away," said neighbor Alan Wilcox. "We just want to see this eyesore go away and make the park more accessible for others."
Neighbors staged a public protest Monday in front of the three-story concrete shell. Nearly 20 people of mixed ages gathered alongside the busy road, holding signs that read Tear it down and Occupy a bulldozer and We want it flattened, not finished.
Another sign announced the existence of a website, edgewater-eyesore.com, which is devoted to the issue. Several neighbors say the unfinished house, surrounded by a chain-link fence, is a magnet for vagrants and unruly kids who sneak into it.
However, city leaders say Dunedin can't afford to buy the property from the bank that currently holds the mortgage, Louisiana-based Iberiabank.
City Manager Rob DiSpirito figures it would cost more than $1 million to buy the lot and demolish the structure. He says that's a tough sell when Dunedin has cut 63 jobs and $12 million from its annual budget in recent years.
The Dunedin City Council has publicly discussed the Edgewater house. But council members have worried that they'd be setting a precedent if they bought derelict private property in one neighborhood. Other neighborhoods could well expect the same treatment.
"We're sympathetic to the neighborhood. We wish we could do more, but it's awfully difficult to justify that million-dollar price tag," DiSpirito said. "A lot of people we talk to in the neighborhood would be just as glad to see the building finished as they would to see it torn down."
Back in 2008, when developer Jeff Ricketts began building the 12,000-square-foot mansion, he envisioned it as a "net zero energy house" that would generate as much energy as it consumed. The house would have had solar panels on the roof and a geothermal energy system extending into the ground.
Neighbors and city officials say some would-be buyers in recent years have wanted to split the structure into separate condos or townhomes. But the property is zoned for a single-family residence.
The newest prospective buyer may not have a problem with that.
"My understanding is that a gentleman from Germany was poised to buy it," DiSpirito said. "He understands that it must be a single-family home."
Property records indicate that the house hasn't sold at this point. Bank officials wouldn't comment on the status of the house.
But the neighbors have plenty to say.
"It's just been a fiasco," said Tony Beneri, who lives across the street from the concrete structure, which he thinks looks like a prison. "This spot could be a very useful park. Delightful Dunedin is losing its charm because of buildings like this."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.