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Hope wanes on leaky roofs
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2000
ST. PETE BEACH -- Three months have come and gone and the skepticism lingers.
On Tuesday, the Mirabella residents with chronic complaints about their leaky roofs will head to City Hall for another special master hearing. This time the city is armed with what residents say they believe is a damning report against the developer or at least the roof installer.
Yet the neighbors are withholding any optimism. They thought they were going to a showdown long before this.
The city had talked in January about hiring an attorney in its code enforcement case against two prominent developers, who would face a laundry list of violations and have to answer to each one.
But there would be no climax at that hearing, no satisfaction, just talk of another consultant inspecting the roof -- this one hired by the city. The problems some residents had been living with for three years would wait.
"The city completely backed off," said Lee Alexander, owner of a Mirabella townhome. "Then the special master granted another extension, and it was just a big joke."
Another disappointment may come Tuesday. The developer's attorney plans to argue for more time.
"We haven't had time to fully review the report," Kent Whittemore said Friday. "We have concerns about the validity of the report. We want to make sure we understand the qualifications of the consultant and make sure that he is a roofing expert."
The city was required to provide a copy of the report to the developer no less than 20 days before the hearing. The report arrived at City Hall on the deadline day, but the developers recently relocated their offices and city officials had difficulty finding them.
Some residents' complaints against Mirabella, built in 1995 and 1996 and located just behind Dolphin Village, prompted the city's code enforcement case against the developers.
Lon Wadsworth has been assembling residential projects in the area for 25 years, and his business partner Robert Douglass is a lawyer and former mayor of St. Pete Beach.
In his report, Thomas Knapp, the consultant hired by the city, examined six roofs at the 76-unit complex and recommended "the complete removal of the roofing system" at five of them.
Among his findings:
Throughout his report, Knapp uses such terms as "sparse" and "makeshift at best" to describe the craftsmanship of the roofing job. He suggests that the builders scrimped on materials necessary to do the job, from foam adhesive to adhere the tiles to the roof to fasteners that hold down the base sheet.
Attempts at repairing the faulty roofing did little to help the problems. "The repeated and attempted repairs . . . appear to have been accomplished by less than qualified workmen," Knapp wrote.
On half the units he inspected, Knapp found that the tile work had not been completed behind the decorative walls that residents believe are causing their problems. The walls, resident Richard Fox said, create "bathtubs on my roof."
Without tile on portions of the roof, the exposed roofing material is beginning to deteriorate, Knapp wrote. The normal life expectancy of this material when exposed to direct sun and rain is only about five years.
"Premature roof failure can be expected," Knapp wrote.
Tiles were spaced too far apart, not enough adhesive was used, and tiles are cracked and broken throughout the roofs. Many loose tiles are laid haphazardly on top of other tiles installed in the roof, Knapp wrote.
"The roofing contractor employed for this project has taken various liberties in the installation of the roof covering system," he wrote.
Mirabella residents are delighted with the consultant's report but frustrated at the prospect of more delays.
A year ago, they placed the blame for their leaky roofs and other problems firmly in the hands of Wadsworth and Douglass. Now, some publicly question whether the city also should take some of the blame.
St. Pete Beach kept sloppy records on building inspections and building plans for the project. Wadsworth, for example, says a former building inspector approved an amended building design, but City Hall shows no record of that approval. That former building inspector is now dead.
Mirabella residents say the city put off their problems for months by telling them that once St. Pete Beach began its new special master process, the system would begin to work for them.
Residents say they're still waiting. And while the city now is happy to have its roofing consultant report in hand, the residents question why that wasn't done during the slow months before the special master, who holds quasi-judicial hearings to determine fault in code enforcement cases, was hired.
"Why didn't they have all this in place for the November meeting or the December meeting or the January meeting?" asked resident Mike Cohen, who has also sued the developer along with two other unit owners.
City building official Mike Knotek said he understands the residents' frustration, but government processes take time.
"The residents of Mirabella have a problem understanding the time delays in this type of area, the time delays to get something like this corrected," Knotek said. "If they went to county court, it would take forever and ever and ever, and they just don't seem to understand that."
The residents are pleased that the city has hired an attorney to represent it at Tuesday's hearing. They say Knotek has a solid understanding of the problems with the development but backed down when faced with the Mirabella attorney.
Of the 76 units at Mirabella, 12 owners have written to the city with official complaints. A meeting between residents and the city manager last week to discuss the problem attracted 15 owners.
City Manager Carl Schwing is among the Mirabella townhome owners, and he says he has never had a leaky roof or other problem. Schwing said living in Mirabella and representing the city sometimes can be awkward.
"It has caused a strange relation between myself and some of the people involved in this issue, but I understand that I wear the city manager hat first and then the Mirabella resident," Schwing said. "Our agenda here is clearly to get these issues resolved."
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