A ‘dream house’ in the making, an eyesore in the meantime

May 17, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY SUSAN HANAFEE – Sometimes it takes time for dreams to come true. That appears to be the case for the Puerto family, out of Miami, who have been building a 5,000-plus square foot home on the southern tip of Little Gasparilla Island since 2012.

The unfinished concrete structure that rises three stories out of the sand at 9912 Little Gasparilla Island is intriguing. It’s been called an eyesore by some. A nuisance that should be torn down by others. But, in fairness, homes under construction never look their best until the palm trees have been planted by the front door of the completed project.

“When are they going to finish that thing?” is the most frequently asked question when the topic of construction at the mystery house comes up – and that’s a lot less often than in the past, according to Charlotte County officials.

Sorry to say, there are no answers forthcoming. 

At least not from the builder Jack Curley who was casually asked about a completion date several years ago at a party. He said at the time he was tired of that question and wouldn’t talk about it. He was pleasant, but who could blame him for his non-answer. Or from the architect, Sweet Sparkman out of Sarasota, who did not respond to a recent email query. 

A scan of the architect’s website was enlightening. There in all its splendor was a rendering of what the Puerto Residence will look like when completed and a description of a complex and, some would say, amazing project.

“The design will be a contemporary aesthetic inspired by the natural characteristics of the island environment,” the overview explained. It talked of curved roofs with stainless steel beams and a “shallow” wood purlin roof system.

“Exterior walls will be masonry and/or a glass curtain wall system … interior floors will be terrazzo and interior walls and ceilings will be painted gypsum board.”

An architectural rendering of what the house will … maybe … one day look like.

A search of public records confirmed that the owner of the property is Sunwind Properties, Inc., whose president is Jaime Puerto. Sunwind was established in 2004 and is located at 1745 West 33rd Place, Hialeah, Florida. It’s one of more than 17 entities registered to the Hialeah address. Sunshine Windows is another. It was founded in 1988 and employs more than 550 people.

Having your own window production company when you’re building a house with a lot of glass must be comforting. Especially these days, when some window orders are being delayed by as much as a year.

If there are no answers from the architect or builder, how about the owner? The pleasant woman who answered the phone at Sunshine Windows listened to my questions and said she would leave my phone number with Mr. Puerto’s assistant. 

When I called a second time three days later, she reminded me that I had already phoned once, and she had given the message to someone who was “very busy.” No returned calls or answers there.

Friends offered their boat for a water drive-by and an up-close look. We were all surprised to see several workmen on two of the levels. One smiled and waved. Sometimes it seems there has been no work for long periods but here was proof that progress was being made – however slow.

A check of the Charlotte County permitting history on the property revealed that the first permit for the single-family residence was issued on June 14, 2012. Permitting at the site has since gone through multiple rejections and renewals and has grown to a whopping 400-plus pages. Typically, a single-family residential permit is between 50 and 100 pages, county officials say.

Ben Bailey, community development director for Charlotte County, says he hasn’t looked at the project in depth recently because an emergency declaration by the governor for COVID has extended permits for more than a year and won’t expire until June or early July. Following the expiration, the owner may have another six months before he needs to renew the permits.

Similar emergency declarations for weather-related events and even red tide can extend building permits for years, Bailey explains.

“We brought in the contractor and the owner a few years ago, and they talked about issues with materials and subcontractors,” he recalls. “Right now, under the emergency order, we can’t do anything to spur them on.”

Bailey says the county shares what he thinks is the same goal as the owner. They’d like to see the project finished.