Neighbors in Tampa Palms celebrate home demolition

The unfinished home was condemned years ago.

Published April 11, 2007

NEW TAMPA — The excavator’s giant claw ripped downward through the eaves of the unfinished mansion, and Pete and Lori Fair embraced. Alan Jones brandished a celebratory cigar. Randy Marlowe smoked one. Clemens Hrouda watched with a coffee mug in hand and satisfaction on his face.

In Tuesday’s wet, dismal morning, an act of stunning destruction sparked happiness in an elegant Tampa Palms neighborhood. A 7,554-square-foot home, condemned and virtually untouched since 2003, was gutted in an hour.

Left unscathed was a lawsuit by the homeowner, Scott Burdge, against the city of Tampa, which paid more than $15,000 for the demolition and plans to send Burdge the bill.

Left happy after years of frustration were the neighbors.

“In a couple of hours, this will be as close to a back yard as our daughters have ever seen in their entire lives,” said Pete Fair, whose home is immediately behind the demolition site at 5302 Witham Court.

When the Fair girls were 5 and 3, the property was a pine forest. A year later, it was scraped clean. A year after that brought a construction job that proceeded through four years of fits and starts until the city ordered it stopped for good four years ago. The result was a sprawling, columned estate home with a wide front porch, no driveway, no interior walls and shingles covering only half the roof.

Today, Fair’s daughters are 15 and 13. “It’s been rotten for as long as they can remember,” said their dad.
“It’s disturbing to have a house under construction for eight years next to you,” said Jones, who witnessed every month of the saga from next door.

Hrouda moved in next to Burdge’s project in 2002, the third year of construction. He got suspicious and visited the city’s code inspectors.

“We found there were legions of records and complaints from the previous years,” he said. “That’s when we knew we had a problem.”

Since Tampa code inspectors condemned the house in 2003, and again in 2004, its fate has been tied up in legal proceedings. Burdge has fought off foreclosure and appealed the demolition orders to the City Council and two levels of state court. All upheld the demolition plans.

Burdge’s lawsuit, filed last year, contends the part of city code used against him didn’t apply to his situation. He concedes the house was plagued by delays, but argues he would have finished it except for a “stop-work” order the city issued four years ago.

“Since September 2003, it hasn’t been his fault,” Burdge’s attorney, Luke Lirot, said Tuesday.
He said Burdge spent more than $500,000 on the house, and “he will be made whole” by the city. Through Tuesday’s demolition, “the city has decided they’re going to roll the dice on their exposure,” Lirot said.

Back on Witham Court, the city’s demolition contractor said the house readily shredded.

“It’s too easy, way too easy,” said John Valois, general manager of H.B. Walker Inc., of Orlando. “It’s the easiest one I’ve ever done in 15 years.”

Valois said strengthening structures such as cross-braces, rebar and firewalls were missing.

Randy Marlowe, a supervisor on the Tampa Palms Community Development District, watched and ventured, “We built better sheds for the cattle out in Colorado than the construction techniques here.”

But Marlowe, nodding at the dozen neighbors gathered in the rain, also paid a sideways tribute to Burdge.

“We need more things like this to bring us together,” Marlowe said. “Mr. Burdge doesn’t know the favor he has done for us.”

Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.