Cape Romano dome homes. Naples
With two of the six Cape Romano domes now underwater, the fate of the dome home is now in the hands of the state.
After years of planning and controversy, the Collier County Code Enforcement Division has closed the case on the Cape Romano dome homes near Marco Island.
“The submerged lands lying below the mean high-water line of Morgan Pass/Gulf of Mexico, including the subject site, are state-owned and within the Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve,” according to a letter to the county from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on May 11.
The letter confirms the jurisdiction of the land where the dome home sits is now with the state, but neither Collier County nor the Florida DEP could confirm the ownership of the dome structures.
The domes, now covered in graffiti, serve as a reef for underwater wildlife, while birds use it as perch to sunbathe. It has also become a landmark for tourists and a prime spot for fishermen.
Although once planted firmly ashore, the dome home now sits more than 180 feet offshore, and nature has taken its toll on it.
According to the Florida DEP, the Cape Romano dome home site is on land that previously was uplands but has become submerged due to erosion.
Some of history’s most powerful hurricanes have contributed to the impending demise of the domes.
The 2,400-square-foot once-interconnected concrete dome home, built by Bob and Margaret Lee in 1980, seemed to be impenetrable until Hurricane Andrew's Category 5 winds ripped across Florida in 1992.
Although the dome home was still standing after Andrew, the windows broke, allowing flooding and destroying the interior. The Lee family then abandoned their home.
The three-bedroom, three-bathroom home with solar panels and a cistern for rainwater was purchased by John Tosto in 2005 for $300,000.
Tosto planned to renovate and live in the domes, but things didn’t go as planned.
What was once an exciting renovation project quickly turned into a nightmare for Tosto.
A few months after he purchased the home, another Category 5 storm — Hurricane Wilma — struck the domes, causing more damage and eroding the underlying beach .
Tim Hall, a marine engineer with Turrell, Hall & Associates who began working on the property when Tosto bought it, said they secured permits to move the home away from the water before Wilma hit.
“The original plan was to pick them up and move them onto the remaining uplands that he still owned, but after Hurricane Wilma … the erosion was so extensive that there wasn’t enough upland left,” Hall said. “Which has proven to be right since Irma hit.”
But Tosto was still hoping to revive the domes.
Until 2007, when Collier County deemed the home inhabitable and ordered that it be demolished due to its unstable structure.
The county has been fining Tosto $250 a day since, saying the home had to be brought up to code or removed. The fines have accumulated to almost $1 million.
“The fines are still attached to the property,” said Connie Deane, community liaison with the Collier County Growth Management Department.
However, since the land the dome home sits on has been turned over to the state, the party responsible for the substantial fines has not yet been identified by the county or the state.
In 2016, Tosto offered to sink the domes and turn them into an artificial reef.
“He (Tosto) wanted to give it to the state and create a reef,” Hall said. “There was a lot of public backlash against that. They have been a landmark for so long, people don’t want to see them go.”
Hall said the plan was to cut off the top of the domes, clean them up and set them into a pattern offshore in 40-60 feet of water with other material to create a reef.
An online campaign by Oceans for Youth, a Naples-based nonprofit group, that was created to raise money for the estimated $2.2 million project lasted six months and raised only $210 before it shut down.
Wayne Hasson, founder of Oceans for Youth, said he realized the project wasn’t very feasible.
“It’s not going to be a great dive spot,” Hasson said. “It’s not going to be an attractive dive site.”
Hasson said the domes would have to be put into 80-90 feet of water and visibility would be minimal.
“How much fun is that going to be to dive down on a dome if you can’t see it?”
But leaving them where they are, although an interesting sight to see from above, poses a possible threat to boaters.
After Hurricane Irma hit in September , two of the six domes collapsed into the water. Only the tops of the domes can be seen peeking out of the water.
“They’re not lit, so they can pose a hazard at night if someone is trying to go around that corner (of the island) at night,” Hall said.
One of four remaining standing domes is leaning and on the verge of collapsing.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the whole foundation is exposed, so any kind of big wind event could push one of them over,” Hall said.
Plans for the domes have not yet been disclosed by the county or state and attempts to reach Tosto were unsuccessful as of late Friday.
“Since this determination was only recently made, I would suspect the matter is still under review and none (plans) have been determined at this time,” said Dee Ann Miller, media relations manager for the Florida DEP, said in an email.