LAKEWOOD RANCH — Every time Greenbrook resident Jim Santora steps out his front door, he’s greeted by the sight of his perfectly manicured front entry way and lawn.
But as he lifts his gaze up, the view staring back at him is perhaps Lakewood Ranch’s biggest eyesore. Directly across the street, a home has sat charred and boarded up since it caught fire Sept. 11, 2008.
“Every morning, that’s what greets us when we walk out the door,” he said with a shrug.
About 10 months after the fire, Santora and several neighbors wrote to Manatee County asking for something to be done with the property at 6216 Macaw Glen because they felt it was as unsafe as it was unsightly. The Greenbrook Village Association Board also lobbied twice on their homeowners’ behalf.
But a county inspection about six months ago deemed the structure sound enough to remain standing. And since then, nothing has happened.
“Unfortunately, our hands are tied with this,” said Tom Headley, president of the Greenbrook Village Association. “We don’t believe the property is structurally sound, but the county deemed that it was. We are stuck with their decision.”
Although neighbors now are more used to the property’s appearance, they still worry the home is a potential safety hazard. Although many windows and doors have been boarded up, the roof of the home now is nearly non-existent. Windows on the second level, which were smashed by firefighters, remain open with broken glass exposed.
“If we were to get a hurricane or a severe storm, who knows what would happen?” Santora said. “We don’t agree (that it’s structurally sound). We think it’s not safe. God knows what goes on in there, and obviously, it’s an eyesore.”
Neighbor Mike Fults, who lives immediately next to the Budd’s property, agreed.
“Hurricane season and that roof give me concern,” said Fults, who witnessed the fire firsthand. “Some of the teenagers have stopped by, but they haven’t caused a problem.”
As a father of two, Fults said he’s also concerned about the cats, rats, hawks and other wildlife he’s seen taking refuge in the structure, as well.
“I’d love to see it go,” Fults said of the house. “We thought it was going to be ripped down pretty quick because of what happened in The Country Club (of Lakewood Ranch).”
The county demolished a home at 7116 Presidio Glen in October 2008 almost a year after it burned in a Christmas fire. Neighbors lobbied county officials for months because of concerns with an unattended pool and with the structure itself as hurricane season approached, among other issues, before the county agreed to demolish the home for about $11,000, attaching the cost as a lien on the property.
Neal Communities later purchased that home through the foreclosure process. David Schoenborn, chairman of the Presidio/Riviera Neighborhood Committee, said Neal is scheduled to present plans for a new home on the site to the community’s modifications committee.
But John Barnott, head of the Manatee County building department, said the Macaw Glen home is different. According to state guidelines, the home is considered structurally sound, he said.
“I’d like to help these folks, but legally, there’s nothing the county can do,” Barnott said. “If we deemed a structure unsafe, it has to be structurally unsafe. We have inspected that home, and it’s not unsafe. It’s unsightly but not unsafe.”
The homeowners, Sam and Chrissie Budd, said they were remodeling the home after it suffered water damage and were about a month away from moving back in at the time of the fire.
Chrissie Budd maintains she and her husband do not know how the fire started. Their insurance company, First Community Insurance Co., refused to provide coverage following the fire because it believes the couple “participated, either directly, indirectly or through conspiracy, the events or occurrences which directly or indirectly caused the loss,” among other defenses.
The Budds have sued First Community for breach of contract, because it has not — or has refused — to provide coverage according to their policy, according to a lawsuit filed in Manatee.
And because of the litigation, the Budds said they must keep the house as-is.
“We need the house still standing because of the lawsuit,” Chrissie Budd said. “It is as safe as we can make it at this point.
“I feel very bad for (the people next door) because they were my neighbors, and we would like to resolve this as quickly as possible and rebuild the house,” she said. “That sums it up in a nutshell.”
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is continuing to investigate the incident. No charges have yet been made, but the organization believes the fire was intentionally set and originated in the home’s garage, Public Information Officer Sam Venzio said.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].