Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
Published November 3, 2015
ST. PETERSBURG — Built in the mid-2000s, it is so plagued
with construction flaws that water seeped through the walls and damaged
units. Residents sued the developer and are enduring months of repairs and
No, it's not Signature Place, the 36-story tower whose problems have been
well-publicized, but another downtown St. Petersburg condo project,
|Like those in Signature Place,
Arlington unit owners are wondering whether city inspections
were adequate then and are now, especially with hundreds of
new condos and apartments under construction downtown.
"I'm upset with the builder, but it's the inspectors we
trust to approve this stuff,'' says John Trunzo, who paid
$300,000 for his Arlington Lofts condo when the project was
completed in 2006.
City officials say they, too, want to make sure inspections
are done right. They are beefing up their inspection staff
and pulling the original reports on Arlington Lofts to
"I can't tell you exactly what happened there,'' said
David Goodwin, St. Petersburg's director of planning and economic
development. "We'll find out who was doing (the inspection) and if there
were some problems with the inspection.''
Comprising three buildings in the 500 block of 4th Avenue S, Arlington Lofts
is a tiny complex compared to Signature Place — 26 units versus 244 — and
far enough removed from bustling Beach Drive that even some city officials
have never heard of it. Like Signature Place, though, it started
construction during a period of frenetic building in Florida and rebuilding
along Hurricane Katrina-damaged areas of the upper Gulf Coast.
"It was so hard to get supplies and workers back then so we think it was
just shoddy construction,'' says Trunzo, 63.
After 30 years in a home on Snell Isle, Trunzo and his wife, Marsha, decided
to downsize in 2006. She liked a condo complex on North Shore Drive but they
were not yet 55, the minimum age for residents.
Her husband had another issue with the place. "I said, 'yeah, and the
building's 40 years old — that's when problems are going to start,' "Trunzo
recalls "We found out that a brand-new building has problems, too. I'll hear
about that until I die.''
In December 2006, they bought a two-bedroom unit in the newly completed
Arlington Lofts. They liked it because it was close to downtown yet
reasonably priced compared to Signature Place on 1st Street S and the luxury
towers lining Beach Drive. In addition, the small number of units gave it a
Barely two years after city inspectors signed off on the project and
residents moved in, major problems began. Chief among them was water seeping
behind the exterior walls and into the units themselves.
The condo association hired a consulting firm, which issued a 58-page report
replete with photos of moisture-related damage including stains, mildew and
dry rot. Some balconies lacked enough slope to drain properly, causing algae
to grow and water to pond outside patio doors.
That wasn't all. The report found that some of the stairs were in bad shape,
already rusting and poorly designed with risers and railings lower than
required by code. Certain fire doors were improperly installed. A large
crack that crossed the floor of the parking garage indicated a possible
sinkhole and "lack of adequate foundation support,'' the report said.
In 2013, the association sued the developer, Mancinelli Investment Group of
St. Petersburg. They reached a confidential settlement earlier this year.
"I really don't have much of a comment on this because it was all taken care
of in litigation,'' owner Paul Mancinelli said.
With the proceeds of the settlement, the association hired Largo-based Down
Under Construction Services, or DUCS. In September it erected scaffolding
that covers the entire west side of one building as workers began to remove
and replace sections of wall.
"For a building 10 years old it should not be in this position right now,''
said Joseph Romano, DUCS president and CEO. "There are some ways they could
have built the wall assembly correctly and they just failed to do it. The
construction, the way they put it together was substandard.''
In particular, Romano said, the coping cap on the roof wasn't installed
right, allowing water to seep down behind the walls, "spoil'' the concrete
and damage the units.
Should a city inspector have caught that?
"I don't know if an inspector would have picked that out, maybe they came
back after the inspector was gone,'' Romano said of the original workers.
"Everything was there that was supposed to be there, it just wasn't done the
way it should have been done from the top down to keep water out.''
The Arlington's problems are similar to those at six-year-old Signature
Place, where water also seeped through exterior walls and into the units.
That condo tower has a host of other problems that are costing owners more
than $8 million.
City officials have acknowledged that their inspectors were stretched thin
during the last decade's building boom.
Today, in addition to an outside inspector working under contract, the city
has 13 inspectors and plans to hire two more because there is so much
construction activity. In what Goodwin, the planning director, calls the
"humongous'' fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the value of new construction
in St. Petersburg soared to $468.6 million, nearly 20 percent more than in
the previous year.
"The issue has been and remains finding folks with the proper qualifications
and certifications to do this work,'' Goodwin said. "Finding those willing
to work for the city has been a struggle for us for quite a while and I
think you would find that all building departments have the same issue.''
Romano said his workers are fixing Arlington Lofts' western wall "like it
should have been done day one'' and are sealing around windows, dryer vents
and other places prone to water intrusion. When work is finished on that
side of the building, crews will check out other problem areas.
In the meantime, the Trunzos are getting estimates on replacing damaged
drywall in their condo. They also need a new master shower.
"I have two bedrooms that are a mess, the shower is a mess,'' Trunzo says.
"But it's basically rebuilding the building so it should be better than new
when it's done.''
Like many other condo complexes, Arlington Lofts had its share of
foreclosures but those have been resolved. A 1,290 square foot unit recently
sold for $242,000, and prices are predicted to climb as demand for downtown
condos continues to soar.
"It's a nice place and we've got a good group of people,'' Trunzo says. "I
don't want to move. But moving into a condo was supposed to be less
stressful and it hasn't been. Now I'm thinking maybe I'm just not a