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A neighborhood civil war

Wesley Warren tried to form the Hampton Terrace Property Rights Organization to oppose organized historic preservation.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Wesley Warren tried to form the Hampton Terrace Property Rights Organization to oppose organized historic preservation.

HAMPTON TERRACE — Who would have guessed a simple plan for historic preservation would lead to thousands of dollars in attorneys fees, neighbors flipping off one man taking his evening walks and avoiding each other at the local grocery store?

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That's exactly what happened in this enclave, built around a lake that cattle herders used as a watering hole more than 100 years ago.

All because of a long-simmering feud that has evolved into a tug of war.

To outsiders, the dispute at Hampton Terrace resembles the backseat bickering of children on a long road trip.

Another look reveals the passion that people have when it comes to one of Tampa's oldest neighborhoods, especially when they feel the sanctity of their homes and such a community are threatened.

• • •

On one side of the divide, the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association's preservation committee started working in earnest toward a historic designation for Hampton Terrace about four years ago.

For the most part, Old Seminole Heights surrounds Hampton Terrace, a community of more than 500 properties, bordered by Nebraska, Hillsborough and Hanna avenues, and 15th Street.

Members of the volunteer committee — some of whom live in Hampton Terrace — documented the area's 308 historic homes, which range from 1920s bungalows to concrete block homes built to house members of the military during World War II.

Ann McDonald, the committee chairwoman who lives in a 1926 bungalow, thought the historic designation would preserve her neighborhood's character.

An orange cat recently crouched on her front porch where chairs invited guests to linger under its shade. Here, she says, neighbors bond. "The fact that it's charming is a lot of it, but in the last analysis, it's the people," she said.

When news of the historic designation trickled to homeowners, many chafed, fearing restrictions on their mailboxes and windows. Tension mounted. The uprising grew and kept growing.

That resulted in a faction group led by Wesley Warren. The group gained steam about two years ago when Warren drafted a petition to stop the planned designation. Warren, who grew up on the shores of Lake Roberta, is all for historic preservation, he says, but not forced preservation.

"I feel it impinges on my property rights," he said.

Many of his neighbors agreed. In the past year, leaders of the revolt knocked on hundreds of doors and spent thousands of hours organizing. They hired attorney John Grandoff and formed the Hampton Terrace Property Rights Organization.

Warren started a petition, his second, and took it to the city with 53 percent of residents' signatures. He would operate as the interim president of the newly formed Hampton Terrace Neighborhood Association.

In February, the city recognized the new group, presenting a problem for some in the Old Seminole Heights association. Several of its board members actually live within Hampton Terrace, including the president, Shawn Hicks, and vice-president, Evan St. Ives.

"This puts me in a weird position," Hicks said. "I can no longer speak on behalf of the public spaces or the residents of Hampton Terrace who are not members of (Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association)."

Hicks and McDonald are upset because Warren's group didn't ask them to sign the petition, although they acknowledge that they wouldn't have anyway. They felt "disenfranchised."

Warren's group had other hurdles to face. It would have to hold an election within 90 days, according to city guidelines.

Warren said he was not told initially about the deadline. He planned to hold office as president for two years before holding an election.

What happened next, he says, he couldn't believe.

Yet another group approached Shannon Edge, the city's neighborhood and community relations manager, with concerns. Led by McDonald, this group decided to start a different Hampton Terrace association.

"We need to be a recognized neighborhood association to get the city's ear," McDonald said.

Warren's deadline passed with no election. Group members say the city treated them unfairly and imposed rules that other associations haven't followed. Edge said her office applies rules uniformly.

McDonald's group is still trying to organize.

In the meantime, Hampton Terrace has no recognized leadership and can't represent community concerns to the city. Said Edge: "It is defunct."

• • •

What's next?

The floodlight on the brick and wood Hampton Terrace sign, which some believe kept the seediness of Nebraska Avenue from seeping into the neighborhood, is burned out.

Old Seminole Heights used to pay that bill. In the past, that association brought in grants for improvements to Lake Roberta and organized cleanup crews.

Some Hampton Terrace residents fear that other things will fall by the wayside, too.

Warren, meanwhile, still takes an evening walk as he has for years. He greets friendly neighbors, their children and dogs by name.

Others see him as divisive. They flip him the bird. Some turn around in the grocery aisle when they see him.

A neighborhood blog features strings of anonymous posts vilifying leaders on all sides of the fight.

As for the historic designation, Dennis Fernandez, Tampa's historic-preservation manager, plans to set a neighborhood meeting, perhaps in August, to go over the pros and cons.

City officials also plan to meet with Hampton Terrace residents next month. Edge, who says she has worked daily on the issue, is waiting to see whether a group will rise up and make its position official by holding an election by summer's end.

"It's fair game for anyone," she said.

Damien Baldwin, who lives on the lake, says he may make a run for office if Hampton Terrace ever gets its own association.

"Let's just move forward," he said.

In a neighborhood known for porch parties and potlucks, everyone longs for an end to a fight that has, itself, become historic.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Fast facts

Hampton Terrace

A historic district designation for Hampton Terrace is pending. The area grew up as a suburb of Tampa starting in 1913. It includes about 140 acres and more than 500 properties. Of those, 308 are historically significant and include bungalows with wraparound porches. Hampton Terrace was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Other Tampa historic districts include Hyde Park, Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights.

A neighborhood civil war 07/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 6:30pm]
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