CLEARWATER — It has been more than half a century since bricks lined any of Clearwater's streets, but a new city policy has opened the door for the Harbor Oaks neighborhood to go for the historic look residents have long coveted.
Under the policy, approved this month, a neighborhood must first make a request for brick streets, and the city will then poll all affected property owners by certified mail. If at least 65 percent are in favor, the city will install the brick at the residents' expense, adding the cost to year-end tax bills if not paid up front.
City Manager Bill Horne said he cannot recall any neighborhood beyond Harbor Oaks requesting brick streets in his 15-year tenure. City Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito, who lives in Harbor Oaks, pushed the council to take up the discussion before a sewer and water project begins in the neighborhood in October, which will require the streets be torn up anyway.
Allen Dadetto, Harbor Oaks Homeowners Association member and beautification chair, said residents in the 107-home neighborhood north of Morton Plant Hospital have wanted brick streets for years. The look adds a historic feel, the bumps create a traffic calming measure and bricks are more environmentally friendly because water can seep around the cracks back into the ground, he said.
"There's people who will fight for this neighborhood," Dadetto said.
The neighborhood — lined with multimillion dollar homes, shady trees and narrow roads designed for horse and buggies — dates to 1913.
It was the first neighborhood in Clearwater to pave its dusty dirt streets with asphalt, according to Good Roads, a publication detailing the construction and maintenance of roads in the U.S.
In a 1913 roads project, Clearwater installed two and a half miles of bricks on Cleveland and Drew streets, and Fort Harrison and Osceola avenues, along with a handful of other blocks. Officials laid concrete in Harbor Oaks, creating "the best paved city for its size, not only in Florida, but in the South," according to Good Roads.
Local historian Mike Sanders said the brick streets remained downtown until shortly after World War II, when officials poured asphalt on top. During the city's beautification project in 2006, the downtown roads were dug up, and the underlying brick was salvaged and preserved at the Clearwater Historical Society.
Today, there are no consistent brick streets in the city, except for decorative brick scattered on downtown sidewalks and intersections and the short Markley Street off S Fort Harrison Ave.
Sanders said brick is often used in historic preservation because of its quaint charm and aged aesthetic.
"Bricks do add character and enhance all the old features of a town," Sanders said. "It adds to the flavor of what they're trying to achieve."
Scott Rice, the city's assistant engineering director, said Clearwater is now in the process of mailing the brick questionnaires to Harbor Oaks property owners.
Rice said no other neighborhood has expressed interest in converting to brick and noted a cost factor that may inhibit most residents.
On average, brick costs $10.38 per square foot compared to $1.53 for asphalt, Rice said. Apart from maintenance and upkeep, brick streets have a shelf life of roughly 45 years before needing to be replaced, while asphalt must be replaced every 15 years.
Depending on lot size, property owners in Harbor Oaks could pay upwards of $1,000 for brick installation.
The city has a street repair fund to replace asphalt streets at no cost to property owners when asphalt ages out, but brick will come at a price.
DiPolito said it's something she believes her neighbors will gladly pay.
"I do believe that Harbor Oaks will succeed at getting (65) percent," she said. "There are people in that neighborhood that would probably pay for their neighbor's share."
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.