NAPLES — The saga of the Cape Romano dome home took another step on its long, strange trip Thursday.
The venue was a meeting of the Collier County Code Enforcement Board. Going into the hearing, dome home owner John Tosto said he thought he had an understanding worked out allowing him and his family to move forward with their plans.
One hour later, the Code Enforcement Board had imposed fines of $186,500 on the property, plus an additional $1,377.79 for operational costs incurred.
The hearing concerned the pod of white, igloo-like domes on the tip of Cape Romano, south of Marco Island and accessible only by boat. Built in 1981, and fallen into disrepair for more than a decade, the structure has a fish-out-of-water, other-worldly quality that makes first-time viewers rub their eyes and look again.
Tosto, whose family trust did not build the domes, but bought the property in 2005, wants to renovate the home and make it habitable again. To do so, he has been shuttling between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, and the Collier County Code Enforcement and Building departments.
He has received a letter of intent from the Corps of Engineers, he said, giving their approval for a boat dock, and intends to deal with the issues raised by the state DEP. He needs a 60-day window to do heavy site work before the sea turtle nesting season begins on May 1, and said he can meet that if he can have a building permit in hand by the end of February. Otherwise, construction will have to be on hold another six months until the turtles are done nesting.
“We’re right in the middle of the Rookery Bay Reserve,” he said. “We understand their concerns.”
He said he hopes to provide resources to help the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve with its mission of studying and protecting wildlife.
Code Enforcement Board members expressed concern that progress had not been made at the site.
“A lot of things are up in the air,” said member Edward Larsen. “We want to spur some activity. My concern is we’ll be back here in three or six months in the same position.”
Board member Kenneth Kelly wanted to find an amicable solution.
“I wish we could throw a couple back and discuss this in layman’s terms,” he said. “If you are really interested in reconstruction, we should issue a new order,” giving the project a clean start.
Larry Dean spoke up, saying, “I’d like to end it right here, and go with the recommendation” to impose the fines.
“An extension of time would benefit the county more than the imposition of a lien,” said member Robert Kaufman.
Eventually, board chairman Gerald LeFebvre called a vote, and the fine was imposed, with LeFebvre, Kauffman, and Kelly dissenting.
Attorney Jean Rawson, legal counsel for the Code Enforcement Board, was called on a number of times to provide guidance.
“This is not technically a hearing,” she said, “but we’ve pretty much turned it into one. This is a very unusual case.”
Indeed, the majority of the other cases heard that morning involved garages built or enclosed without a permit, uncompleted improvements, or unauthorized clearing of vegetation.
After Tosto’s session in front of the Code Enforcement Board, Code Enforcement Director Dianne Flagg spoke to John Tosto outside the hearing room.
“You’ve got some big problems,” she told him. “Based on the DEP information, there are some very stiff requirements before a structure can go up on that property.”
But, she added, “There are multiple opportunities to have the fines waived,” if the Tostos comply with the 2007 order mandating removal of the domes from Cape Romano.
Tosto, who spoke of having a vision, and said destiny, not luck, would allow him to prevail, remained upbeat.
“If I get a permit, the fines will go away,” he predicted.
The family has $550,000 invested in the parcel so far, he said, and expects construction to cost an additional $900,000.
But, he added, “What’s that property worth once it’s developed?”