Some residents at Clearwater condominium complex remain powerless, in dark

Dec 1, 2011

The following article was published in the St. Peterburg Times on December 1, 2011:

Some residents at Clearwater condo complex remain powerless, in dark

By Drew Harwell

More than a month after a fire knocked out their electricity, residents of a Sunset Point Road condo complex remain frustrated and in the dark.

Residents say the property owner responsible for repairs has done nothing to fix the crumbling wall where flames gutted a bank of electric meters, leaving electricians unable to bring the units back online.

Though the four offline units are owned by different people, the power meters are affixed to the fire-ravaged wall of property owned by Gordon Brown. Residents wonder if Brown has pocketed the insurance money without planning for repairs.

“It’s just so doggone unfair,” said resident Sandi Turja, 62. “It breaks my heart. It really does.”

Neither Brown nor his son, Bobby Brown, returned messages left over the last week. Last month, Brown’s son shifted blame for the delay to insurers and city engineers and said, “It just takes time to do stuff.”

Last week, city officials cited Brown for violating housing code standards requiring electricity, hot water and security — the outside wall of one apartment still has a baseball-sized hole in it that opens into the master bedroom.

Upon receipt of the citation, Brown will have 20 days to obtain permits and complete the repairs, said building official Kevin Garriott. If no work is done, Brown could face fines.

“If the owner is uncooperative, as it seems he is,” Garriott wrote in an email, “it may take some time to get the property fixed.”

Meanwhile, lights remain dark and refrigerators loll open at four apartments in the complex, Sunset Grove Villas, just east of Hercules Avenue. Their dark times have lasted through both Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Virginia Wistner, 50, said she has been devastated since the fire Oct. 23. Her tight budget has suffered from weeks of using laundromats and eating fast food. After staying three weeks at a Super 8 motel, she had to move back to her darkened apartment.

“I’m absolutely financially on the brink,” Wistner said. “I thought it would be taken care of before Thanksgiving … but it’s just going from nasty to nastier.”

A few weeks ago, Wistner tried to arrange for an architect to draw up plans for the repairs, she said. But Brown told her he would not pay for the work and would hire his own architect. She has yet to hear back from him.

Neighbors took up a collection and gave her a $100 Publix gift card to buy some hot meals. But in the last month, she said, all Brown has done is arrange for a green garbage bag to cover the hole in her wall.

Another owner whose property was damaged in the fire, Turja said, received a check from Citizens Insurance, leading residents to believe Brown may have the insurance money but is unwilling to spend it on repairs.

Turja and Wistner say they’ve been advised to move by property managers, but they say they don’t have the money — or energy.

“I think he should invest in a little more compassion,” Turja said of Brown. “I just can’t believe he has gotten away with this.”

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