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Neighbors fear DOT will raze house from 1913

Community activists in Seminole Heights are fuming at the FloridaDepartment of Transportation (DOT).

And it isn't the first time.

After losing a two-year battle against the widening of Hillsborough Avenue, members of the Old Seminole Heights Preservation Committee now fear the DOT is preparing to demolish a house they regard as historic.

DOT Property Manager Mike Mahagan said the state has a $6,000 contract to raze the house at 5402 Suwanee St., its garage and a clapboard building on the corner lot.

Mahagan said the demolition could occur as early as next week, although the DOT would listen to offers from anyone interested in removing the house.

The final order to demolish has not been issued yet, and the contract is not final until then, Mahagan said.

Howard Moore, a real estate agent and chairman of the committee, said the 1913 house was one of the first homes in a community largely built in the 1920s. Moore said a house across Suwanee - and four others the DOT will have to buy for the project - was declared historic by the Tampa-Hillsborough County Preservation Board.

"I don't see a great difference between that house and the ones they deem to be contributing to the historic character of the neighborhood," Moore said.

Pat Kemp, a committee member and news director at WUSF-FM, said all houses more than 50 years old are historic simply by virtue of their age.

"They don't care at all about preserving the neighborhood," Kemp said. "They only care about widening the streets and making traffic counts."

But David Rigney, research and construction manager for the

Tampa/Hillsborough County Preservation Board, said Friday that the house does contribute to the historic character of the neighborhood, a key test on whether historic districts can be included on the National Register of Historic Place.

"It was a plain and simple mistake that it was not classified as

contributing," Rigney said.

But even though the building might be historic, technical regulations on boundaries still might exclude it from protection. Fred Wittemore, the DOT acquisitions administrator, said he would welcome and assist neighborhood or other groups that want to remove the house.

DOT officials said they are sensitive to the historic character of Seminole Heights, built as a "streetcar suburb" of Tampa. Agnes Spielmann, the engineer in charge of planning the Hillsborough Avenue widening, said plans call for an 8-foot high brick wall to line the road from Central to Nebraska avenues. The walls will be adorned with brick columns.

The DOT also plans decorative lamp fixtures to highlight the historic character of the neighborhood, Spielmann said.

Community activists such as Moore and Kemp said they think the road widening will further split a neighborhood already divided by Nebraska and Florida avenues as well as Interstate 275. They would prefer diverting traffic to other east-west roads.

The project comes as the neighborhood is experiencing something of a renaissance similar to what occurred in Hyde Park. Darcy Feldman, a real estate agent, said she sold three houses in Seminole Heights within the past six months at prices "in the mid-50s."

Matthew Snook, 27, who owns a house just off Hillsborough Avenue, said he does not oppose the road widening or the demolition of the house. He said the barrier wall will help buffer his property from traffic and transients.