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Temple Terrace debates benefits of historic home program

TEMPLE TERRACE — The 1926 two-story home by celebrated architect Dwight James Baum had fallen into disrepair, though it occupied an ideal lot overlooking the golf course and trees along the banks of the Hills­borough River. Greg Barnhill, who has spent 20 years restoring bungalows in Seminole Heights, saw the jewel that it was and could be again.

He intended to renovate and sell it, but Barnhill and his partner, Chuck Kaelin, loved it so much they decided to move in. Many thousands of dollars later, they have completely restored and expanded the house, the renovations all in keeping with the Mediterranean Revival style, known for its arches, stucco walls and barrel tile roof.

Barnhill favors having the city of Temple Terrace join the Certified Local Government Program, called a CLG, which proponents say would help preserve the city's historic homes and raise property values in those neighborhoods, plus make grant money available for city preservation projects.

But in workshops held to gauge reaction of others who own historic homes, a number of residents said they worried that the program — run by the U.S. National Park Service and Florida Division of Historical Resources — would put so many restrictions on how they remodel their homes that they would have a hard time selling them. They also fear that the program, which would be voluntary, would eventually become mandatory.

On Tuesday, the City Council asked community development director Charles Stephenson to come up with more specifics on what joining a CLG and establishing a historic preservation review board would actually mean for owners of the 92 homes identified as historically significant.

"I think we need to formalize some of these known questions and get the answers,'' said council member David Pogorilich. "And maybe that will help people understand and maybe want to do it more than they do now. It's fear of the unknown, and I share that fear.''

The effort focuses on two styles: the Mediterranean Revival homes of the 1920s and the mid-century modern homes of the 1950s and '60s. Many of the early homes were designed by Baum, who also created John Ringling's lavish Sarasota palace, Ca' d'Zan, and M. Leo Elliott, who designed Tampa's old city hall and Centro Asturiano in Ybor City. Stephenson's department mailed surveys to the 92 homeowners, asking their reaction on the city becoming a CLG. Only 22 responded, but of those, 14 expressed interest.

Barnhill and Kaelin's home, which they bought for $130,000, is now appraised at just over $500,000, Barnhill said. He did not specify what they spent renovating it. "We're under the appraised value, so we're happy with that,'' he said.

The house was changed several times over the years, so to restore it, Barnhill and Kaelin had dropped ceilings removed to bring the height up to its original 9 feet, 6 inches.

In an enclosed side porch, now Barnhill's office, they uncovered original arched windows that had been squared. They turned the garage into a kitchen and den and added a new garage separate from the house. They connected the original maid's quarters to the main house. They moved bathrooms, and added a bigger porch with arched windows screened in. They changed the shingled roof back to barrel tile. And of course they uncovered unexpected problems, such as a leak in the roof over the office.

"You know with an old house, once you start, you kind of open a can of worms,'' said Barnhill.

"The scary part was every time Greg would call me, there would be more money — something else,'' said Kaelin, a Publix manager. At one point, Kaelin suggested they just sell it. "He said we're too far in it; we can't.''

Barnhill believes that once people learn what the Certified Local Government Program is all about, they'll embrace it. He noted that people worry about losing rights to change their homes as they want, but the city code already limits what they can do. Plus, he said, several studies by the National Trust for Historic Preservation have shown that many people want historic homes and will pay more for them.

Historic home owner Kay McGucken told the City Council that she worried about additional regulations on what she could do with her house. Also, "it says that it's voluntary now, but will it always be voluntary?''

Owen Whitman echoed McGucken's concerns, "I am not very confident about the promises of government.''

Both suggested that any council members who own historic homes should abstain from voting on the matter because they have a conflict of interest.

City attorney Mark Connolly told the council that he did not think that voting to merely establish a CLG would constitute a conflict.

Council member Grant Rimbey, an ardent proponent of the CLG status, owns a mid-century modern home. And member Robert Boss drew laughs when he said he hadn't realized he lived in a historic home.

"I will say apparently I do own a mid-century modern home because I got a postcard from the city.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

Temple Terrace debates benefits of historic home program 02/19/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 1:16pm]
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