Friday, November 16, 2018
Real Estate

Residents of one Tampa Bay neighborhood fear death of their ‘Old Florida Living’

OLD TAMPA BAY — Less than a mile from where 50,000 cars a day speed along Hillsborough Avenue lies a quiet waterfront enclave of Old Florida Living.

Peacocks strut past weathered cracker houses. Children ride horses along narrow roads overhung with mossy oaks. After a storm blows past, everyone comes out to see if anyone needs a hand.

But like many neighborhoods in Tampa Bay, this one near Oldsmar is changing and residents aren’t happy about it.

Nonie Slaughter is losing her privacy to a three-story behemoth under construction next door. Bruce Manny wonders if complaints about his crab traps come from someone trying to drive him off his land on Old Tampa Bay so they can put up another McMansion or two. And Rose Ann Parsons marvels at the moxie of builders who named a new subdivision Eagle Pointe — even though the eagles disappeared when the bulldozers moved in.

They and their neighbors say Hillsborough County officials have let them down, favoring new development over all that makes their little corner of the county so special.

"It truly breaks our hearts," Slaughter says. "The reason we live in the neighborhood is that it’s in the country. At what point in time are you going to quit worrying about money and greed and start saving the character of Old Florida?"

Related: Tampa’s economy remains hot, but not as hot as Orlando’s

• • •

Just east of the Pinellas-Hillsborough line, this small peninsula jutting into the bay is legally called R.E. Olds Farm, after Ransom Olds. He was the automotive pioneer who developed nearby Oldsmar but went back to Michigan when the city’s growth stalled in the 1920s.

In the 1950s, Parsons’ father-in-law dug some canals. Individual lots were sold, but the area kept its rural flavor even as chain restaurants and stores began to mushroom along Tampa Road/Hillsborough Avenue.

Forty years ago, Manny settled at the end of Seagull Way, right on the bay.

"I like to be out in the country and back then, this way out in the country," he said on a recent steamy afternoon, working on his traps in his cluttered yard. "When I moved out here, a guy who crabbed was over there; a mullet man owned that place there. I bought this from a commercial fisherman."

His friend across the street, Slaughter, spent years in the Washington, D.C., area, advocating for AIDS funding and LGBTQ issues, before returning to her native Florida. She discovered R.E. Olds Farm one day when she spotted a sign for "Waterfront Property" while heading to Clearwater.

Turning down a sleepy road, "I saw the moss dancing in the trees, and I felt like I was home," she said. "This is where I wanted to grow old and spend the rest of my life."

It was a long drive from her job as director of catering at the University of South Florida, but it was worth it to live in an old-fashioned neighborhood where residents watched out for one another. She built a house; from her deck and bedroom, she could see the bay.

The county had long since rezoned the area to allow greater residential development, but the recession and housing crash had curtailed new growth. Then, a few years ago, Ryland Homes announced plans for a subdivision, Eagle Pointe. It was near an eagle’s nest that had been there for decades.

MORE: Go here for more Business News

Slaughter, Parsons and others mobilized. They made T-shirts that said "Old Florida Living’’ — that’s what they call their neighborhood — and signs with red lettering that proclaimed "Developers Stay Out" and "Ryland Homes Not Welcome."

The fight was unsuccessful.

"They came right out here in the middle of all of what we have and tore it up and put in 23 cookie-cutter homes," Parsons said. "To us, this is not subdivision land; everyone buys their own piece and builds their own house. We don’t have anything against people living here, but the way it was done was not necessary."

Gone were the eagles; gone were the fine old trees, replaced by newly planted ones propped in place with boards. Residents moving into their $500,000 homes realized they were living near HorsePower for Kids, a nonprofit horse farm and pet sanctuary that had been there since 1994. They began to complain about the smell.

A county inspector came out and told owner Armando Gort he needed to do something. He hired a man to haul off some manure, then paid $5,000 for a manure spreader.

"I built this when there was nothing here," Gort said. "People know what’s next door, but they still get a house and they’re still complaining."

• • •

About the time the Eagle Pointe project cranked up, a young couple bought the lot next to Slaughter’s on Seagull Way. It was just 60 feet wide — the same as Slaughter’s — but they wanted to put up a nearly 3,000-square-foot house, so big they had to apply for setback variances for the front and sides. They also wanted a variance to build within 25 feet of the wetlands and canal in back, though the rules required a 50-foot setback.

At a hearing four years ago, Slaughter explained she had built her house strictly to code, which had limited it to 2,100 square feet. She had set it back from the canal even more than required so her neighbor to the north could still see the bay, she said.

If the new neighbors were allowed to build so big and so close, Slaughter told the hearing officer, she would lose her own bay views and much of her privacy.

In the end, the officer approved the variances. He noted that the lot had been created in 1974, before the 50-foot requirement took effect, and that the new owners had agreed to add 1,000-square-feet of native plants to compensate for the reduced wetlands.

"The applicant has sought the use of the variance process to accommodate a home of reasonable size while addressing environmental considerations," the officer wrote.

Construction started in 2016, stalled when the owners got divorced, then resumed. Work is far enough along that the house with its concrete base and wood frame top soars above Slaughter’s, blocking her view of the bay, as she predicted.

"People are so greedy," she said. "They’ve got to have this square footage and don’t stop to think about those of us who’ve been out here."

County officials said this week that the construction permit — which has expired at least twice — is currently active. However, the permit for the septic tank system has expired and no certificate of occupancy can be issued until the Florida Department of Health approves one. Additionally, the builder will have to submit a survey showing the property meets required setbacks and elevations.

Although it won’t be finished for months, the four-bedroom, three-bath house with a four-car garage already is on the market for $799,000.

The Key-West style home ‘‘will feature stunning views of beautiful Tampa Bay from the wraparound balcony and 4th-story lookout," the listing says. "This hidden gem is centrally located and surrounded by a little bit of Florida history."

• • •

More and more of the history of R.E. Olds Farm is disappearing. Slaughter’s friend, Bruce Manny, is the only fisherman left in the area. He and his partner, Norma Ferrer, routinely get calls from investors wanting to buy their property with its wide-open views of the bay.

"They want to build as big and fast as they can," Manny grumbles, though he intends to stay put.

Like him, Rose Ann Parsons and her husband wonder why. Why do people want to move here only to change what attracted them in the first place?

"If people want to live in the city," Winard Parsons says, "they ought to stay in the city."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

Comments
Safety tips for Realtors: forget the taser and spike heels, always follow, never lead a client

Safety tips for Realtors: forget the taser and spike heels, always follow, never lead a client

ST. PETERSBURG — Chips Wells, crime prevention specialist for the St. Petersburg Department, has daughter who’s a Realtor. Among the advice he gave her: Forget the spike heels when showing a house to a stranger. "I want you to wear shoes...
Published: 11/09/18
Hotel developer closes on block next to Tampa City Hall for Hyatt project

Hotel developer closes on block next to Tampa City Hall for Hyatt project

TAMPA — HRI Properties has closed on its $7.6 million purchase of a city-owned block next to Tampa’s City Hall and says it plans to start construction later this month on a dual-branded Hyatt Place and Hyatt House hotel project.In 2016, Tampa put out...
Published: 11/09/18
Have a household income of $59,000 a year? There might be an apartment in Water Street Tampa’s first residential building for you

Have a household income of $59,000 a year? There might be an apartment in Water Street Tampa’s first residential building for you

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa broke ground Thursday on its first residential project — a pair of apartment towers rising 21 and 26 stories with:• Floor-to-ceiling windows in every apartment that open onto balconies eight feet wide.• Roofs topped with ou...
Published: 11/08/18
Investor Ben Mallah pays $20 million for Holiday Inn Westshore

Investor Ben Mallah pays $20 million for Holiday Inn Westshore

TAMPA — Largo real estate investor Ben Mallah likes to say that while the other kids were out playing football, he was inside playing Monopoly.That hasn’t changed. Last week Mallah paid $20 million to buy the Holiday Inn Westshore, his second recent ...
Published: 11/05/18
As more shops open in St. Pete’s booming downtown, should Chamber of Commerce find a new home?

As more shops open in St. Pete’s booming downtown, should Chamber of Commerce find a new home?

ST. PETERSBURG — Shoppers can find an array of unusual and upscale items in downtown St. Petersburg:Purses made in Italy of genuine crocodile skin. Hand-enameled jewelry and Russian nesting dolls. Stiletto heels, slinky cocktail dresses and original ...
Published: 11/01/18
Updated: 11/02/18
‘Zombie’ homes fading away in the Tampa Bay area

‘Zombie’ homes fading away in the Tampa Bay area

"Zombies’’ are gradually disappearing from Tampa Bay’s housing scene.As of the end of September, the area had just 410 zombies, or vacant homes in some stage of foreclosure, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. That was 6.7 percent of all homes in fore...
Updated one month ago
From bunkers to tunnels, Mafia history stirs underworld exploration in Ybor City

From bunkers to tunnels, Mafia history stirs underworld exploration in Ybor City

TAMPA — A real estate listing touts the features of a 2,068-square-foot home for sale on North 12th Street: Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a basement, a courtyard with Mediterranean-style shed, and beneath the shed, "its own bunker."Welcome to Ybor C...
Updated one month ago
In second major deal, Water Street Tampa to pay $2.75 million for critically needed parcels of land

In second major deal, Water Street Tampa to pay $2.75 million for critically needed parcels of land

TAMPA — One business day after paying $13 million for the site of the ConAgra flour mill, the development company for Water Street Tampa on Monday got the green light to spend another $2.75 million more on land it needs for its finest hotel and talle...
Updated one month ago
Affordable housing ‘nearly impossible’ to build to now in Tampa Bay area

Affordable housing ‘nearly impossible’ to build to now in Tampa Bay area

Construction began on nearly 3,000 homes in the Tampa Bay area in the third quarter of this year but the new-home market shows definite signs of slowing down. Moreover, "truly affordable housing (is becoming) an impossibility in this market," a new ...
Updated one month ago
Water Street Tampa developers buy ConAgra flour mill for future expansion of their $3 billion project

Water Street Tampa developers buy ConAgra flour mill for future expansion of their $3 billion project

TAMPA — In a deal that will sweep away one of downtown Tampa’s last vestiges of heavy industry, the development company for Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment on Friday paid $13 million to buy the ConAgra flour mill just north of their 50-acre Water S...
Updated one month ago