GULFPORT — Property owners who want to build or renovate no longer have to go through the often-frustrating approval process alone.
They can get help from experts in the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce's new Mentor Program.
Retired electrical and general contractor Lawrence Burke was recently tapped to lead the group of retirees and active business and professional people who have entrepreneurial, management, financial, sales, marketing or accounting experience.
"In Gulfport, it's difficult to get anything through the city," Burke said. "It took two years to build a house, but I stuck with it and persisted through all sorts of delays" that would stymie or even drive away the uninitiated.
The mentors will use their collective expertise to help others.
"We'll help with the drawings, layouts and code issues, and then go with them when they go before the city. We'll try to alleviate any obstacles," he said.
The 73-year-old native Californian moved to Florida about 20 years ago. He has lived in Safety Harbor and Gulfport, where he left his mark on many of its buildings.
He designed and built the Habana Café; designed the conversion of a house on Shore Boulevard into the Sea Breeze Manor Bed & Breakfast; and designed and built the large pink Victorian house on Shore Boulevard.
Burke is building a huge three-story, two-family home on Shore Boulevard that he and his wife will share with their daughter and her family.
That's the house that has been hung up in the approval process for two years. The problem is that it's being built on commercially zoned land.
"All of a sudden, the city started reinterpreting the code and said we needed a 25-foot setback instead of zero," he said. But he had enough experience and knowledge to work through it — something he said he hopes to help others do.
The group's mission is to benefit young and expanding businesses by sharing years of experience with them, said Bob Newcomb, the chamber's executive director.
Burke is also interested in helping homeowners build concrete units with garages on the alleys behind their homes. Concrete units will be built to survive a major hurricane and will provide shelter for residents if a major storm washes away their house, he said. In the meantime, they can be rented or used by family members.
Burke said the Mentor Program will be informal and may even serve as sort of a social club for experts in business and construction.
To get information or help, call the chamber at (727) 344-3711 or email info@gulfportchamber ofcommerce.com.