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Mirabella partners face fine for roofs

If the townhome developer and builder don't begin repairs by Sept. 1, the city will fine them $250 a day.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 9, 2000


ST. PETE BEACH -- A parade of Mirabella residents, company officials and attorneys has appeared before the city's special master four times in the past nine months.

The residents ask for roofs that don't leak on their five-year-old townhomes and beg the special master to penalize the developers -- or perhaps motivate them -- with fines. The developers ask for more time to study the roof, study the city's study of the roof, meet with city officials and, ultimately, repair the problem.

On Sept. 1, Special Master John Elias ruled Tuesday, time will run out for former Mayor Bob Douglass, president of the company that developed the Mirabella townhomes, and his longtime business partner Lon Wadsworth, president of the company that built them. If they don't begin roof repairs by that date, the city will levy $250 a day against them.

"There is to be progress being made," Elias told about eight Mirabella residents who attended the hearing. "I don't mean periodic progress. I mean steady progress."

Neither Douglass nor Wadsworth attended the hearing, and they did not send an attorney or other representatives. The fine is the maximum daily penalty for first-time violations, which were first cited in a warning letter from the city in April 1999.

Neither Wadsworth nor Douglass returned phone calls Tuesday.

Elias levied the fine after city building official Mike Knotek relayed the ongoing frustrations of forcing the developers to begin work before September arrives, with its more serious hurricane threats. Dozens of loose tiles are either stacked on top of the Mirabella roofs or laid without adhesive. Such tiles could become projectiles in hurricane-force winds, Knotek explained.

"The city has tried to work with the developer on getting these problems resolved," he said. "We are now two months into hurricane season. I still have a roof that has loose tiles on it."

Knotek met with Wadsworth and Douglass in July, and the developers agreed to give the city a schedule detailing when work would begin. In fact, relations between the city and Mirabella developers went so well this summer that Knotek elected to cancel their appearance at a June special master hearing because he believed they were about to comply with the city's demands.

But Knotek has not heard from the developers since his July meeting with them. They have not presented the city with a plan for the work, so he asked Elias to fine the developers if they do not begin work in about three weeks.

"It seems to me that I have not gotten a clear and concise answer from them in the last 60 or 90 days," Knotek said.

Some of the residents, though pleased that the special master had at last levied the fine against the developer, were unsatisfied that Wadsworth and Douglass will be repairing rather than replacing the roofs.

Knotek insists that the repairs planned for Mirabella are extensive and nearly as expensive as replacing the roofs. "There's more to it than a ladder, some nails and a bucket of tar," Knotek said.

Knotek said the city also plans to try to force the developers to pay the $6,500 or $7,000 the city has spent in its code enforcement action against them.

Among those expenses was $5,000 for a roofing consultant, who inspected six roofs at the complex and called for replacing five of them. The consultant, Thomas Knapp, listed several problems that pointed to shoddy craftsmanship and sparse use of materials.

The roofers placed the tiles too far apart, against city code, allowing fewer tiles to cover a roof. They also used insufficient amounts of adhesive to hold the tiles in place, and many tiles had no adhesive or were simply stacked on roofs in areas where tile work was never completed.

The consultant called the roof work "makeshift at best."

One resident at the hearing suggested that the city clarify what work was necessary to complete the repairs. Besides the city's code enforcement action regarding the townhomes, a handful of residents are also involved in a lawsuit that includes Wadsworth's company, Wadsworth Development Corp., Douglass' company, Mirabella Development Corp., and the roofing contractor, Hendrick Roofing Co.

"Seeing as Mr. Wadsworth has a wonderful reputation for slipperiness and evasiveness, how about getting him on paper for once?" Mirabella resident Philip Thorne said.

Knotek said he believes Wadsworth and Douglass want to repair the roofs, despite the cynicism of some Mirabella residents who have fought the developers for so many years that they find the pair untrustworthy.

"At times, I feel like they're very serious, and I do believe they want to correct the problems," he said. "But the problems are so extensive that the economics of correcting those problems probably enter into the situation at some point."

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