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Sarasota Thursday, May 2, 2019 6 months ago

Stalled Rosemary project draws concerns

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The Vanguard Lofts project is partially constructed — and residents want to see the developer finish the job.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

In 2014, before it became clear new regulations would lead to a building boom in the Rosemary District, a few initial developments stood out as signs of private investment in a neighborhood long targeted for revitalization.

One of those developments was Vanguard Lofts, a six-unit condominium to be located at 1343 Fourth St.

These days, nearly four years after the city issued a building permit for the project, the Rosemary District has been transformed, with several new apartment complexes going from groundbreaking to move-in.

The Vanguard Lofts project, however, is not yet complete. The site sits unfinished; the bones of the building are in place, but the exposed concrete is a sign work is left to be done. 

Richard Mones, president of the Rosemary District Association, noticed portions of the façade that were installed are now deteriorating.

“The wood front on the building is bleached out by the sun and some pieces have fallen off,” Mones said in an email.

When Mones realized there were no signs of progress on the project, it became a source of concern. There was a half-built building in the neighborhood and no way of knowing when it might be finished. He reached out to city staff asking what could be done about Vanguard Lofts, calling the building an eyesore.

The answer he got is that options are limited — for now, at least. City Building Official Larry Murphy said a building permit is still valid for the project, though it is set to expire at the end of May. Developers get a 180-day extension for a project if it passes an inspection, so there’s a possibility the permit could be in place beyond its current expiration date.

Even if the permit lapses, Murphy said Florida building regulations give a property owner leeway to bring a project into compliance. For another 180 days after the permit expires, a developer can pay half of the building fees to reinstate the permit. After that 180-day window, the property owner would have to resubmit plans and ensure the project comply with current building code standards.

Eventually, Murphy said, the city could have the option to seek the demolition of an incomplete project if it’s deemed unsafe. Murphy said that’s a long way away for the Vanguard Lofts property. For now, he’s just focused on making sure the contractor keeps the project site in order.

“It’s held to the same standard as any of our construction projects,” Murphy said.

Murphy said it’s unusual for projects to lapse or for developers to go long periods of time between inspections, because there’s a financial motive to move forward quickly with construction.

In an email to Mones, Murphy said the contractor said “his client was having some financial issues” that were preventing him from continuing construction. Neither developer Tetra Tetra Development LLC nor contractor Crowley Services Inc. responded to a request for comment by presstime.

Considering the amount of work already complete on the property, Murphy was hopeful the project would resume in the near future. 

Although it might draw the ire of some Rosemary District residents, as long as the property isn’t a hazard, it’s unlikely the city will be able to take any action to spur activity on the site.

“I’m hopeful they’ll get back around to paying more attention to this and getting it moving,” Murphy said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have the power to make people call in their inspections.”

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