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    Deserted lot loaded with questions

    A 24,000-square-foot home is put on hold, leaving the neighborhood wondering what is next.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001

    [Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
    A foundation and walls are all that were built of an eight-bedroom home at Belleair and Belcher roads.
    LARGO -- One lone wall snakes across the east side of what was supposed to become one of Pinellas County's largest homes.

    The site is deserted, leaving concrete blocks to mark the home's foundation and neighbors to wonder what will happen to the 12 acres at the northwest corner of Belcher and Belleair Roads.

    The owners' building permit has expired, along with their desire to build a 24,000-square-foot home on the land.

    "My understanding is they're abandoning the project and they're going to hire a contractor to clean the site," said Mayor Bob Jackson.

    It's quite a change for land on which an eight-bedroom, 13-bath home equipped with an elevator, a pool and tennis courts was to stand. The owners never set a price, but one construction expert estimated the house could cost $5-million to $10-million.

    In Pinellas County, only the 26,000-square-foot home being built by professional basketball player Matt Geiger would be bigger.

    "We were going to have the biggest house in Largo, and now all we have is a vacant piece of land," Jackson said.

    The owners, Jurg and Simona Weiss, live in Switzerland and could not be reached. Jurg Weiss is a financier who is listed as an officer in several Swiss financial companies. Florida corporate records say Jurg Weiss also owns a company, Pelican International Investments, with partner Andrew Szilagyi.

    Szilagyi said it's still possible they'll finish the house one day, and that they aren't selling the land. But for now, it's "definitely on hold," he said.

    "I think they have decided they're going to stay in Switzerland," Szilagyi said.

    People described the couple as nice but very private. Not even Szilagyi is entirely sure why they decided not to pursue the house now.

    "It was little things put together," he said. "I don't think it was only one reason."

    Part of their hesitation stems from finding America different from what they had expected, he said. Partly they are concerned with privacy. He and those who had worked on the house said the couple was upset that the St. Petersburg Times wrote a story about it last fall.

    Randy Aldridge, city building official, said the contractor told him that he plans to demolish the home's existing foundation. Neither the contractor nor the architect would talk about the project.

    Neighbors on Beverly Drive, the street that borders the property's west side, said they were still hoping the couple would complete the house.

    Dene Thomas has lived behind the land for 38 years. She can remember when another house sat on the property. After fighting a proposal to put a nursing home on the land, she said, neighbors want the property to remain residential.

    "The whole neighborhood is anxious just to get things settled," she said. "I want to keep it a neighborhood."

    Down the street, 14-year-old Julie McDermott said she wants a house next to her street "full of dogs and kids."

    "Our street is a cut-through street," between Belleair and Nursery Roads, she said. "So if they put in a nursing home, there would be a whole lot more traffic."

    The land is zoned residential.

    Jackson said he thinks a zoning change is unlikely. If the Weisses sell the land, he said, the most likely way to develop it would be with a handful of large homes.

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