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Razing of old bungalow in downtown St. Pete incenses preservationists

ST. PETERSBURG — Preservationists are hopping mad about the demolition of a bungalow that once stood in a downtown district that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Maureen Stafford, president of St. Petersburg Preservation, likened the razing to "a catastrophe of history.''

She and others view the demolition of the Craftsman-style home as evidence of a lack of awareness of preservation issues and are furious not only about last week's leveling of the building but the incremental loss of other structures on the 1.8 acres on which it once stood.

"That empty lot with its chain link fence stands as a poignant reminder of why we need to have our checks and balances in place before we move to demolish any property,'' Stafford said.

The bungalow, at 316 Second St. N, was a stop on St. Petersburg Preservation's historic downtown walking tour. Last week, only a pile of rubble remained. Kai Warren, who leads the walking tour, said he arrived as workers "were smashing it into toothpicks.''

City ordinances regulate the demolition of historically significant downtown buildings. The bungalow sat on a section of a large piece of property that had been approved for redevelopment in 2008. Rick Dunn, the city's building official, said that at the time of the site plan approval, "the zoning ordinances in effect did not require any review or special approval for demolitions unless it was a local landmark structure or a potentially contributing structure in a national historic district. This project would have been exempt, because it had an approved site plan that had not expired."

Dunn said that while there had been no violation of the historic preservation ordinance with the leveling of the house, the city's amended zoning regulations now require both approved site plans and complete building plans before demolitions can be considered. Building plans had not been submitted for the bungalow property, and the permit to demolish it had expired. A new one was issued on Oct. 21 and the house was torn down less than a week later.

The demolition request should have been reviewed by the zoning department, Dunn said. "We did make a mistake by not doing that.''

Peter Belmont, vice president of St. Petersburg Preservation, said he hopes that type of mistake is not repeated. "I don't know whether they need to train staff better or whether they need to have another supervisory review before the city takes action, but it seems to me that something needs to be done,'' he said.

The land on which the destroyed house stood is part of the 1.8-acre downtown property developer Grady Pridgen planned to use for a mixed-use project called Bayway Lofts. The project was to include four buildings rising up to 34 stories at Third Avenue N between Second and Third streets. County records show that Pridgen lost the property to foreclosure in March and that it is owned by Redus Florida Land LLC, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo. The property is listed with an international real estate firm, C.B. Richard Ellis, which describes it as "vacant land'' on its website. The asking price is $4.5 million.

Preservationists say that only one building on the land has been saved, a 1903 mansion that stood at 245 Third Ave. N. The house was moved to the Historic Old Northeast in 2005.

Belmont wishes the newly demolished Craftsman-style bungalow could have been similarly preserved. "It's just a shame that there wasn't an opportunity to see if anyone was interested in relocating it or using elements of the home,'' he said.

The bungalow's architectural style took into consideration Florida's climate, Belmont said. "The windows allowed air to flow through the house and it had a large overhanging porch and large eaves. We felt it was representative of what residences looked like downtown,'' he said.

Stafford said that while the bungalow was not on the national register or designated a local landmark, it was significant.

"Every building within a national historic district is historically significant,'' she said. "People come from all over the United States and also from outside the United States to do our walking tours. … They want to see a collective inventory, and if we keep nibbling away at our inventory, that's like taking your precious money out of a savings account.''

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Razing of old bungalow in downtown St. Pete incenses preservationists 10/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 29, 2010 7:05pm]

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