The property at 2700 Driftwood Road S in St. Petersburg has been the subject of neighborhood controversy before.
The 1.32-acre lot in the Driftwood neighborhood was once where the historic Gandy house stood, a home built in 1910 that belonged to the namesake of the Gandy Bridge, which new owners demolished it in 2018 over the protests of neighbors.
Now, those owners have brought a lawsuit against the home-building company in charge with constructing a new house there, saying it’s become an “unmitigated disaster.”
Timothy and Janna Ranney say Tampa-based Windstar Homes breached a contract with them and violated Florida’s building code, among other allegations, and are seeking damages of more than $30,000. The company said the accusations are “without merit.”
In the complaint filed late last month, the Ranneys accuse Windstar of “a classic bait and switch sales technique” in which the company promised to design and build them a luxury house that hasn’t been delivered. Instead, Windstar has charged the Ranneys more than $700,000 in “change order fees” for features that they selected but had to be changed because they were “either no longer available, were dramatically more expensive (or) were going to be constructed of a cheaper quality,” they allege in the complaint.
Additionally, the Ranneys say that construction workers have visited the job site on their off time to fish from their dock on Big Bayou and host “small parties and gatherings.” Even though they’ve already paid for the roof, its construction has been on hold for more than 10 months, according to the complaint, exposing the home to the elements, including the rainfall of Hurricane Eta last year.
The design professional on the project quit after construction started and now it’s being handled by a 22-year-old “former intern with very little design experience and even less credentials,” the Ranneys say in the court documents.
In an emailed statement, Windstar Homes said the company was “surprised and disappointed the Ranneys have chosen to file this complaint.”
“As a builder of one-of-a-kind premier luxury homes in Tampa Bay for 25 years, we have a proven record of meeting our clients’ most exacting standards,” it said. “The claims made in this suit are without merit and we will vigorously defend our work on this project and our reputation. We pride ourselves on both the homes and the relationships we build.”
The former home on the site, which was also called the Mullet Farm, was built by shipbuilder Barney Williams, son of St. Petersburg’s co-founder, Gen. John Constantine Williams. It was later purchased by George “Gidge” Gandy, Jr., who worked with his father and brother to construct the Gandy Bridge.
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It then went to his daughter, Helen O’Brien, who died in 2015, resulting in the home being put up for sale. The Ranneys purchased it in 2017 for $1.73 million, but ended up razing it.
The old house was “too dilapidated and termite ridden to be renovated and restored,” they said in the lawsuit.
After it was destroyed, neighbors led an effort to have the area designated as historic to preserve other old properties in the future. In March 2019, City Council granted historic district status, though that was rescinded a year later after several residents fought the designation in court and a judge found the city failed to follow proper procedure.