Dome house relies on permit to survive

Hurricane Wilma took its toll on the few remaining structures on Cape Romano, completely removing a house on stilts and further damaging 'igloo' structures on the desolate point.

Photo by MICHEL FORTIER // Buy this photo

Hurricane Wilma took its toll on the few remaining structures on Cape Romano, completely removing a house on stilts and further damaging "igloo" structures on the desolate point.

It’s not exactly what many people would consider a sound investment, but to John Tosto and his family, restoring their home on Cape Romano is worth the money.

Hurricane Wilma took its toll on the few remaining structures on Cape Romano, completely removing a house on stilts and further damaging 'igloo' structures on the desolate point.

Photo by MICHEL FORTIER // Buy this photo

Hurricane Wilma took its toll on the few remaining structures on Cape Romano, completely removing a house on stilts and further damaging "igloo" structures on the desolate point.

The Tostos are planning a makeover for their weekend retreat, despite having experienced difficulties renovating their property in the past. The home — also known as the “dome home” or the “bubble house” — used to share the island with the “pyramid home” and the “stilt home.”

The Tostos’ home is the only remaining structure of the three and to ensure that it will remain, renovations include raising it to the current flood elevation and adding new piles and structural beams.

Among the aesthetic improvements, the Tostos plan to build a wrap-around deck that will make movement among the domes much easier than the access the house currently provides to its other rooms — one long hallway.

The renovations couldn’t have come at a better time — Collier County deemed the house not inhabitable in June and the three homes have been plagued by tidal and structural problems since their construction in the early 1980s.

Though the dome house was built to be hurricane-proof and managed to survive Hurricane Wilma without a scratch, it was built on the sand with no piles to support the structure.

It still has about 20 feet of beach in front of it at mean high tide, Tosto said, but in 1997 the sea surrounded the stilt house and the pyramid house fell into the water completely. The stilt house didn’t fair as well as the dome home in Hurricane Wilma either — it was lost in the storm despite the family’s efforts to acquire a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection to renovate it.

One of the sticking points for restoring the dome home, which was valued at $1.5 million in 1980 and according to the county property appraiser has a current value of $300,000, is that it is located in the Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve and the plans have to meet extensive criteria before the project is deemed environmentally compatible with the surrounding habitat.

Plans to renovate the stilt home where it stood in the Gulf were denied before it was destroyed in 2005, but the family is optimistic that the drawn out process for procuring a permit for the dome house is almost complete. It will have come at a cost, however.

“It has taken a lot longer for permitting with the state than was expected and that caused us to lose one of our investors,” Tosto said.

As for how the family intends to use the home, it will be purely a family retreat, he continued, and anyone who wants to invest would have the same privilege. He’s not bothered by the idea that the house may not be a sound investment — it has those 20 feet of beach and it’s simply a great place to spend a weekend.

“I’m out there as much as I can,” he said. “We do jet-skiing, fishing. It’s just a beautiful retreat. There’s nothing like it — it’s beautiful nature.”

The Tostos probably won’t have to worry about developers coming and crowding them out of their getaway home — Glengar Corporation sold about 47 lots in the 1960s and many people bought them up, anticipating that the island would become a popular escape destination for locals, but it never happened.

The Tostos own five lots — the other 42 are either washed into the Gulf of Mexico or owned by the state.

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