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South Tampa News

Davis Islands mansion must be demolished, city says


Published:   |   Updated: November 7, 2013 at 08:22 AM

TAMPA — A crumbling 4,000-square-foot Davis Islands mansion must be demolished, a special magistrate ruled Wednesday, calling the owners’ efforts to save their long-vacant, dilapidated home akin to putting lipstick on a pig.

Neighbors were ecstatic.

“This is a victory for the neighbors who have had to watch this thing degrade the neighborhood and threaten their safety,” said Kim Fatica, board member of the Davis Islands Civic Association, after the hearing before the city’s code enforcement board.

Neighboring residential values are estimated at around $1 million and the now-rundown mansion located at 545 Severn Ave. was once in that same league.

The original homeowner, Norman Bond, built the unusual home – it was the size of a mansion and had a tennis court and pool but only one bedroom – in 1971. Playboy magazine once listed the house as one of the top bachelor pads in the country.

John and Mary Perez purchased it in 1995 but live on a neighboring Davis Islands street.

The vacant home had fallen into disrepair and neighbors said the Perez family had not done anything to remedy the house’s problems. Neighbors said the mansion was a fire hazard and teenagers and vagrants would sneak into the house.

Following an inspection in September, the city determined the structural damage was so serious officials suggested a demolition the day of the inspection.

The owners were given 21 days to respond. They waited 22 but were granted a code enforcement hearing anyway.

The Perez family was not at Wednesday’s hearing. Through their attorney, Dennis Lopez, they requested another 30 days to look into options to save the home.

Lopez said the family had secured their home by boarding up the windows and doors, but special magistrate Paul Erni said that wasn’t enough.

“In my opinion the house is a public safety hazard and we proved it is beyond repair,” said Sal Ruggiero, manager of the city’s Neighborhood Enhancement Division. “The deterioration is so bad the only alternative is for it to come down.”

Ruggiero said he signed a demolition order immediately following Wednesday’s ruling. He said no demolition date has been set and the owners can appeal the decision to Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

Ruggiero estimated demolition will cost the city $15,000. A lien will be put on the property, allowing the city to recover the demolition cost if the property is sold.

Lopez declined to comment when reached by phone. According to civic association board member Antonio Amadeo, Lopez presented the owners’ side of the story at the hearing. He said the home received water damage in a 2004 tropical storm and that the family tried to fix the problems but was the victim of shoddy construction and is in litigation over the matter.

According to code enforcement, a demolition permit was pulled for the house in 2005 but never acted upon.

“My take was the owners were waiting for the lawsuit to pan out so they could recoup some of the costs,” said Amadeo. “Or they just did not care.”

Neighbor Bill Newman agreed with the latter assessment.

“They had no intention of coming back. The home is covered in graffiti and toxic mold. It is falling apart and they live a mile and a half away. They knew what was going on. I don’t know why they wanted to save it so badly now. If they felt something for the house, they never would have allowed it to self destruct.”

”From a community perspective this was the right decision,” Cristan Fadal, president of the civic association. “It prevents any accidents from happening in relation to the home. That’s what matters most.”

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